Federal Judge Calls For Hearing After KJZZ Report On Arizona Prison Health Care

Published: Wednesday, December 20, 2017 - 10:17am
Updated: Wednesday, December 27, 2017 - 6:53am
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(Photo by Jimmy Jenkins - KJZZ)
Dr. Jan Watson has been working in health care for more than 30 years.

Waving his iPad and pointing to a KJZZ story on prison health care, Magistrate Judge David Duncan furiously addressed the courtroom at a Parsons v. Ryan status hearing in federal court Wednesday morning.

"I'm standing literally this morning because I am standing up for the inmates in Arizona prisons," said Duncan.

Judge Duncan stood and addressed the court for 15 minutes to outline the allegations made in the KJZZ report published this week. Duncan referred to an an email describing Corizon Health's avoidance of fines as a potential "smoking gun." Corizon Health oversees all medical, mental and dental care at 10 Arizona state prisons.

Duncan told the court he did not know the veracity of Dr. Watson's account, but said his staff had received calls from Corizon employees telling him "it is so much worse than you think."

The KJZZ report cited Dr. Jan Watson, a former prison doctor worked at Arizona State Prison Complex-Eyman in Florence, and the daughter of Walter Jordan, an inmate who died of cancer while incarcerated. Watson said her requests for medical treatment for inmates were repeatedly denied.

Judge Duncan questioned whether there was corruption within the system.

"I have used words like shocked and flabbergasted, but I have run out of words," he said.

Judge Duncan set a hearing for Feb. 9 to investigate the allegations made in KJZZ's report.

At the hearing, the judge said both sides will be able to lay foundation and call witnesses. He said he would issue subpoenas to "get to the bottom of this."

Duncan said he is now considering appointing an outside monitor independent of Corizon and Arizona Department of Corrections to monitor the process.

The judge then heard continued testimony about the ongoing attempts at compliance with the settlement stipulations.

The state’s contractor, Corizon Health, has not been able to fill the number of provider-level physicians required in its contract. The company also struggles to find outside providers to treat inmates with specialty care.

Corizon and the Arizona Department of Corrections said this is because doctors don’t want inmates in their waiting rooms, they don’t have the capacity, and due to the AHCCCS rates paid by the state.
ADC assistant director Richard Pratt testified he recently learned of a potential bankruptcy of Arizona Oncology Network, one of Corizon’s oncology subcontractors, which generated a large backlog of requests for cancer treatment.

“It’s my understanding that AON is in the process of declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is refusing to accept inmates as patients going forward. Which required Corizon to find another provider.”    

Duncan asked Pratt, “Who at the state is responsible for this? A large amount of patients are having their oncology care delayed. Is it on your shoulders, Mr. Pratt? Who has trouble sleeping at night? Is there anyone in the state employ who worries about this?”

“I worry,” Pratt responded.

Duncan noted that Corizon has chosen to continue to pay fines instead of fully staff the Arizona prison health care clinics. Attorney Daniel Struck, representing the state, said he did not know what the fines for understaffing were for November.

Until a new contract provision took over in November, there was a cap on sanctions at $90,000 a month. Struck said had there been no cap, the fine would have been hundreds of thousands of dollars both in September and October.

The court then heard from an independent agency called Advisory Board, which the court has ordered to improve health-care staffing in the prisons. ADC will pay for a study of market conditions, pay and benefits at the prisons and deliver an analysis by June of 2018.

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