After Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature pushed to privatize health care for the inmates in their state, they auctioned off the job of providing prisoners with health services to the highest-bidding company. Wexford Health Sources Inc. won a $349 million, three-year contract with the state prison system and took over inmate care on July 1.
But just a few short months after the Pittsburgh-based company took over, the Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) is stepping in to correct issues with the inadequate care it has provided to state inmates. The DOC is leveling a $10,00 fine on the company for its negligence in dispensing proper medication to prisoners in Arizona’s state prison facilities, outlining Wexford’s damaging effects on sick prisoners’ quality of life in a strongly-worded letter to the company’s officials:
An inmate was found hanging from a sheet in his housing unit in Florence on Aug. 23. The state determined that the inmate had not received his psychotropic medication for the entire month of August, prior to his hanging, and Wexford’s failure to deliver the medication was a “significant, non-compliance issue.” Records do not indicate if the inmate survived.
On Aug. 27, a nurse hired by Wexford contaminated a vial of insulin, potentially exposing roughly 100 inmates at the state prison in Buckeye to hepatitis C. Another Wexford nurse was aware of the problem Aug. 27, but she did not file an incident report until Sept. 4, violating policy. The state was forced to deploy additional compliance monitoring staff to correct the problem. It said Wexford failed to follow established nursing protocols, mismanaged documents and engaged in inadequate and inaccurate communication.
At the Goodyear prison, meanwhile, a known case of whooping cough, a reportable infectious disease, went unreported to DOC staff and Wexford’s state-level management for 30 days, indicating a “lack of urgency” and a “lack of awareness of the situation’s potential seriousness.”
Even aside from the most egregious examples, the DOC also discovered last month that “a significant number of inmates may not have been receiving their medications as prescribed due to expired prescription(s) and inappropriate renewals or refills,” and Wexford showed a “lack of urgency” to correct the problem. Since Wexford employees didn’t make moves to address the issue, Arizona had to deploy extra staff “to identify inmates in need of medication renewals.”
Unfortunately, the situation in Arizona’s prisons is a predictable effect of privatizing the state’s prison health care. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation report found that privately-run health care programs in prisons often lead to “inhumane” conditions as officials work to cut costs and skimp on inmates’ care. Arizona inmates sued the state last March over inadequate care in state prison facilities that, in some cases, contributed to prisoners’ deaths after they were denied proper medical treatment. Arizona touts its efforts to privatize its prison system as an effective cost-saving measure for the state, but private prisons actually cost Arizona $3.5 million more each year than state-run prisons.