The New York state Attorney General’s office has launched an investigation into Correctional Medical Care (CMC) Inc., a private health care contractor that has become the Empire State’s largest provider of medical services to county jails. The investigation comes in the wake of nine inmate deaths at several different jails between 2009 and 2011 that have all been linked to negligent or inadequate care provided by CMC.
A report by the Commission of Correction’s Medical Review Board highlighted inadequacies in the care provided by CMC, including poor communication, negligence, and failure to live up to its own stated standards of medical care:
The Medical Review Board has blamed CMC for failing to follow its own drug withdrawal and detoxification policies, for ignoring signs of mental illness and for failing to treat some illnesses, the Press and Sun-Bulletin reported. The board recommended county-level inquiries to decide if CMC is to continue to provide services at the Broome, Tioga and Dutchess county jails.
CMC has provide medical services at the Broome County jail since 2006 under contracts worth more than $18 million through the end of 2013. Sheriff David Harder told the newspaper he was satisfied with CMC’s track record and noted few inmate complaints.
The state review board report said CMC failed to follow its own intoxication and withdrawal policy after Alvin Rios was booked into jail following his July 2011 arrest for criminal possession of a controlled substance. The doctor said he wasn’t made aware of Rios’ condition. The report said Rios was left in a “life-threatening status without appropriate medical attention” and died of a heart problem.
Other inmate deaths included 26-year-old Justin McCue, who hanged himself after his mental health services were halted; Maria Viera, who died of a heart inflammation after CMC failed to provide her with proper detoxification procedures; and a number of suicides that stemmed from a combination of improper mental health evaluations and insufficient medication.
A comprehensive 2009 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that New York’s use of private health contractors has directly corresponded with the state’s ballooning prison population — and those concurrent trends have the potential to exacerbate each other. That’s because higher incarceration rates have led to exploding demand for cheap medical services, which in turn promotes profit-driven behavior from health care companies, since they actually have a financial incentive to see more Americans put in jail. In New York, that dynamic has resulted in the growth of “for-profit corporation[s] providing cost wary, yet expensive and inconsistent care” in a state that spends three and a half times more money on prisons than it does on education.
The CMC investigation underscores the serious problems stemming from a combination of exploding prison populations, states’ increasing use of for-profit health care contractors, and budget cuts to safety net programs. And this isn’t the first time that this issue has been in the news recently. California Gov. Jerry Brown is also currently under fire for turning a blind eye to his state’s lackluster prison health care.