Corizon nurse blows whistle on patient healthcare

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX -- A prison nurse is blowing the whistle on patient health care at state prisons.

The allegations are damning. "People with ongoing diagnosis like leukemia, diabetes, or have complications to some serious illnesses," says "Julie," a current prison nurse for Corizon. Corizon is a private company hired by the state of Arizona to provide health care to prisoners.

"Julie" asked to keep her identity hidden because she fears Corizon management will discipline her for talking to 3TV about the conditions at Arizona state prisons.

3TV asked "Julie" if she was saying that some of those patients are being delayed care. "Julie" responded: "Absolutely."

"Julie" says Corizon is cutting costs, cutting corners, and ultimately cutting short the lives of patients.

"Julie" tells 3TV that "inmates that needed cancer treatment or chronic or severe diagnosis that needed to be seen quickly, they were delayed.

"We asked, "How long were those patients delayed?"

"30 days is when they were supposed to be seen, but it could be 60 days 90 days, four months, or six months." 3TV then asked the nurse, "Do you believe that some of these patients could have died because of delayed care?" "Julie" responded with a one word answer, "Absolutely."

The state pays Corizon hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to provide health care for inmates. 3TV spoke with another nurse who has since retired, who also asked not to be named out of fear of retaliation by Corizon. That nurse says Corizon managers intentionally denied or delayed urgent medical care for patients. 

3TV obtained a report by medical experts hired by the ACLU to inspect and review the conditions at Arizona prisons. The inspection was part of a class action lawsuit filed against the state about lack of care for patients.

According to the report, experts found that "...almost half of the people who died natural deaths received grossly deficient medical care..." and that "...the poor care clearly caused or hastened their death."

Corizon never responded to our repeated requests for an interview. In fact, on several occasions a receptionist hung up once we identified ourselves as a news organization inquiring about the allegations made by current nurses at the prisons.

We spent months gathering internal reports written by nurses, and ultimately found that Corizon patients, according to nurses, needed urgent medical care, but the nurses claim the prisons are understaffed and the nurses also say they never receive any proper medical training once they are hired.

3TV asked "Julie" more about the training of nurses, "Are there nurses being asked to do and perform medical treatment and services that they are not properly trained to do?" "Julie" responded, "Yes."

It could explain why Corizon admitted that a newly hired nurse improperly injected patients with a potentially contaminated vial of insulin... possibly exposing two dozen inmates to life-threatening diseases: Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV.

At a recent inspection of a state prison, a medical expert hired by the ACLU reported that "..exam rooms lacked basic medical equipment..." that was "...broken, covered in dust..." and that "... had not been repaired or checked in more than a decade.""They were set up, I think, to fail," says State Representative Chad Campbell.

Campbell says that Corizon cuts corners to make a profit. Campbell says the result is poor health care, and ultimately leaves taxpayers open to lawsuits.

Campbell, who believes the state of Arizona should not privatize prisoner health care, tells 3TV that, "Regardless of what your stance is on the prisoners themselves, this is taxpayer money and if we end up in lawsuits, and we end up in these legal battles we're going to be wasting taxpayer dollars."

The state of Arizona just settled a major class action lawsuit where Corizon and the state admitted no wrongdoing, but promised to improve the health care for prisoners, many of whom are currently locked up for small crimes.

"They're trying to do their time, and come out to hopefully be more productive members of society, and to put them into prison and then have them develop some serious chronic health condition or even God forbid die, in effect giving them a death sentence, that, to me, is unacceptable. You can't do that to people. It's unconstitutional, and it's inhumane," says Campbell.

The State Department of Corrections also declined an on-camera interview. They did, however, provide us with an email statement that reads in part: ".. the incident reports have been addressed. Review and oversight assure that all medical staff work within their respective scope of practice. Medical staff are encouraged to bring concerns to their supervisors attention.

We asked "Julie":"Have you ever feared that you would lose your job when you would raise a concern?" "Julie" responded, "Yes. Absolutely."

3TV asked, "Have you ever been bullied?" Julie again responded, "Yes."

"Julie" says that she was disciplined by Corizon for writing up internal reports which she handwrote that patients were receiving poor health care.

The highest ranking Democrat, State Senate Minority Leader Anna Tovar, read "Julie's" reports about the conditions inside the state's prisons, and Ms. Tovar wants the state to ends its contract with Corizon.

Until then, "Julie" says patients will suffer under Corizon management, and so will taxpayers she says.

3TV asked:"Why are you risking your job in speaking out about what's really happening inside the state's prisons?"

"Julie" responded: "It seems like there is so much hush hush, 'Keep it quiet. Don't talk about it. Be a team player. Team players don't talk,' and I don't think that's a safe environment for nurses to work in."