A state district judge has ruled that Corizon Health, which formerly oversaw medical care for New Mexico prison inmates, must pay legal fees for violating the state public-records law. Corizon has refused to release to two newspapers and an advocacy group the settlement agreements it made with prisoners who had sued the company. Judge Raymond Ortiz said in his decision this month that Corizon must pay $37,535 to attorneys who represented the organizations that sought the records. Ortiz wrote that the petitioners — the Santa Fe New Mexican, the Albuquerque Journal and the Foundation for Open Government — were denied written requests for public records. They successfully sued Corizon to obtain the records, and under state law they are entitled to attorneys’ fees, the judge said. He also said that awarding reasonable legal fees encourages attorneys to take the cases of private citizens who file lawsuits seeking to enforce the Open Records Act. Ortiz last August ruled on the merits of the case, finding that “the settlement agreements are public records subject to disclosure.” Corizon is appealing that ruling and the one regarding attorneys’ fees to the state Court of Appeals. It has yet to produce the documents.
… Until the state replaced Corizon last year, it held a $37.5 million a year contract to provide health care to state inmates. Corizon paid about $4.5 million to settle lawsuits brought by inmates in its nine years as the medical provider. The bulk of those settlements were with inmates who claimed they were sexually assaulted by a doctor employed by Corizon. Both Corizon and the state Corrections Department have refused to release the settlement agreements in response to public-records requests, citing language in the company’s contract. … Corizon, the nation’s largest for-profit provider of inmate care, faced more than 150 lawsuits filed by some 200 inmates in the nine years it had the contract. That was a sharp increase in the rate of lawsuits by inmates during the 2004-07 tenure of the previous provider, Wexford Health Sources. The state fired Wexford over concerns about the quality of its medical care. And the Department of Corrections chose not to renew its contract with Corizon last spring after a six-month investigation by The New Mexican, published in April 2016, revealed deep problems with inmate care provided by the company and with the state’s lax oversight of Corizon. Even so, the state’s contract with new provider Centurion also allows the company to keep settlement agreements confidential. …
State mum on inmate health care oversight
Source: Justin Horvath, Santa Fe New Mexican, April 19, 2016
Gov. Susana Martinez was silent Monday when asked through a spokesman for reaction to the findings of Santa Fe New Mexican investigation into the lack of oversight of medical care delivered to state prison inmates by Corizon Health, a Tennessee company that has faced over 150 lawsuits by more than 200 inmates in the state since 2007 over allegations of negligent care, civil rights violations and sexual abuse. … Those warnings came internally from department employees about the lack of auditing of the contract as well as from the inmates themselves, who claim in lawsuits that Corizon denied or delayed care for health issues ranging from a hand crushed by a prison door to breast cancer that went untreated, even as the inmate’s breast turned purple, swelling to twice its size. … Corizon’s contract ends at the end of May. It is among the companies bidding to win a new contract to provide medical care for approximately 7,000 inmates in state custody. Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel also did not respond to requests for comment Monday on whether the new contract would contain similar litigation provisions.
Contract with state allows Corizon to keep its settlements secret
Source: Phaedra Haywood and Justin Horwath, Santa Fe New Mexican, April 17, 2016
Massive settlements and jury awards in other states over the years provide a dismal view of the medical care provided to inmates by Corizon Health and other for-profit prison health care companies. … But in New Mexico, Corizon has been allowed to operate almost entirely in the shadows, even as more than 200 inmates have filed lawsuits against the company since it took over medical services for most of the state’s prisons in 2007. That’s because not one of the lawsuits has gone to a jury, and Corizon has kept all records of settlements secret. The Corrections Department says the company can do that because under the terms of its contract with the state, it is responsible for defending itself in lawsuits and does so even when the state is named as a co-defendant. … Susan Boe, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said New Mexico “cannot contract away the state’s obligation under the Inspection of Public Records Act.” “If the state or its employees have been named as parties in those lawsuits, they should have a copy of the settlement documents, which therefore should be subject to the Inspection of Public Records Act,” she said. … In response to public records requests by The New Mexican, the Corrections Department said it had no record of settlements and referred questions to Corizon. The state Risk Management Division had no record of Corizon settlements either. Corizon told the newspaper: “Copies of medical malpractice settlements are bound by confidentiality restrictions between parties and we are not able to disclose the terms of those settlements.”