Family claims prison health care killed fatherPosted: Updated:
PHOENIX -- The company that provides health care to Arizona inmates is Corizon. Its website states, in part, the company provides "high quality healthcare (sic)... that will improve the health and safety of our patients. Our people, practices and commitment to success through evidence-based medicine enable us to consistently meet and exceed client expectations."
But several nurses who currently work for Corizon Health tell 3TV that's not true.
What's more, one family says their father died because Corizon failed to live up to its promise.
"He was always in great shape," Mark Dehe said of his father, Manfred. "He walked all the time. He actually walked quite quickly."
Dehe said he spent as much time as he could with his father, but that changed when Manfred was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Dehe knew his dad would serve time but would eventually be released. The family would be reunited.
Dehe had no idea what three years inside an Arizona prison would do to his father.
"Infuriating," he said. "Infuriating."
Soon after Manfred went to prison, he complained to his family that he was in severe pain.
Dehe ignored him at first.
"I thought he was overreacting," Dehe explained. "I told him, 'Dad, this isn't the Ritz.' I told him it's prison you might just have to wait a little bit longer."
But I also assumed that they were receiving and given adequate health care. It may not have been the best. You may have had to wait a little bit, but I thought it met their needs. I was very ignorant.
- Mark Dehe
Medical records show that a prison doctor recommended surgery for a hernia on Feb. 21, 2012. It was categorized as an urgent priority.
On March 13, another medical professional recommended Manfred be seen by a doctor outside the prison, again for hernia-related issues.
One week later, medical staff again recommended outside treatment. It was again listed as "priority urgent."
I sat down with Dehe to talk about his claims that Corizon failed to provide proper care for his father.
Health care for violent criminal offenders is not at the top of most people's minds.
"I'm a little embarrassed to say I understand," Dehe confessed. "Prior to my father going to prison ... I didn't give it much thought. [M]y thoughts were 'Well if they didn't do anything wrong, then they wouldn't be in that position to begin with.
"But I also assumed that they were receiving and given adequate health care," he continued. "It may not have been the best. You may have had to wait a little bit, but I thought it met their needs. I was very ignorant."
3TV obtained hand-written notes from Manfred to prison staff. He seemed to be begging for help.
"I'm 77 years old. I don't feel right. I'd like to have a doctor fully examine me."
"To urinate is extremely painful. My hernias are also hurting."
"I'm not receiving any more meds for my urinary tract infection."
When Manfred was finally seen by doctors outside of the prison, lab tests came back with devastating results.
"Prostate cancer. Terminal prostate cancer. Stage 4," Dehe said.
Manfred's health deteriorated fast.
His family says he was supposed to receive monthly injections to slow the cancer. Medical records show that injections were sometimes missed because the medicine was not available, according to one doctor's notes.
Manfred continued to cry out for help. He wrote letters to management, saying, "I FEEL LIKE I AM BEING NEGLECTED. I NEED TO SEE A QUALIFIED DOCTOR AND GO TO THE HOSPITAL NOW!!!"
"From that time until he was finally seen for an exam, August 2013, 15 months had passed," Dehe said. "By that time, it was too late. He never left the bed. He never saw outside. He was never moved from one side to another and after two weeks he had severe bedsores. They would eventually get so bad you could see through to the bone."
Do I think anything is going to change? Not a bit. Not a bit," Dehe said. "I have to assume that they act on the fact that there is no oversight, and therefore they can do whatever they want.
- Mark Dehe
Manfred's story is not unique. The state of Arizona has a contract with a private health care company, Corizon, to provide care for inmates. A report by medical experts hired by the ACLU to inspect and review the conditions at Arizona prisons found "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."
We even spoke to a current prison nurse who confirmed that inmates are dying because of poor care.
The prison nurse we talked with spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"People with ongoing diagnosis like leukemia, diabetes, or complications to some serious illnesses are being delayed care. Absolutely."
Nurses and doctors caring for Manfred tried to get him proper care.
"It is my medical judgement that this patient requires hospitalization," one doctor who saw him wrote to prison management.
One nurse even wrote a note that reads, "Department of Corrections short staffed and unable to provide security for ambulance transport. Consult Cancelled."
Dehe believes his father was sentenced to death because of poor health care.
"He was ridiculed by the staff," he said. "They didn't want to bathe him because quite frankly he smelled. One of the people even joked and said, 'Why don't you throw a sheet over him,' insinuating he smells like he's dead. He must be dead so cover him up."
Corizon recently settled a major class action lawsuit, promising it will make changes to provide better care to inmates. The case settled on Oct. 14, the same day Manfred lost his battle with cancer.
Manfred walked into prison at age 75. Three years later, he was dead.
"Do I think anything is going to change? Not a bit. Not a bit," Dehe said. "I have to assume that they act on the fact that there is no oversight, and therefore they can do whatever they want. If there's nobody watching me, I can do whatever I want. Who's going to complain? The inmate? Who's going to believe the inmate?"
Corizon declined an on-camera interview for this story. A spokesman did, however, respond with a statement.
"The oncological care provided Inmate Dehe from the time Corizon Health began serving the Arizona prison system met the standard of care and was appropriate to his condition. Federal and state privacy laws prohibit public discussion of details of patient conditions or courses of treatment."
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Corizon and the Arizona Department of Corrections have three years to make changes that will improve the health care provided to inmates.