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Health Care Complaints at City Jails Nearly Doubled Since 2012: Records

By Rosa Goldensohn | February 2, 2015 7:45am
 Rikers is home to more than 11,000 people on a given day.
Rikers is home to more than 11,000 people on a given day.
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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

RIKERS ISLAND — Complaints about health care in city jails have nearly doubled since 2012, according to city Health Department data.

In 2014, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene received 1,137 complaints, according to records obtained by DNAinfo New York from a Freedom of Information Request.

That's up from 616 in 2012 and 751 in 2013, according to the Health Department records.

Advocates and family members call 311 and the Health Department with their complaints in the hopes of getting adequate medical care for underserved sick inmates at Rikers Island and the city's other lockups, they told DNAinfo New York. 

The number of complaints has been steadily climbing as Corizon Health, the Tennessee-based company the Health Department contracts to run health care at Rikers Island, has come under increased scrutiny regarding the quality of care it provides. 

DNAinfo New York first reported in September that the state's Commission of Correction found them culpable in a number of inmate deaths at Rikers.  

"We have a robust process for reviewing the evidence surrounding every complaint we receive and substantiating those for which we find a violation of established policies and procedures," Health Department spokesman Levi Fishman said in a statement.

The Health Department refused to release specific complaints or their content. It defended the medical services it oversees, and said the rise in complaints had more to do with increased reporting than worsening conditions.

“The Health Department is committed to providing the highest standard of health care in the city’s jails,” Fishman said.  “There are a few reasons why the number of complaints may have gone up, including a change in the 311 reporting structure that formalized how calls were routed and increased reporting from advocates.”

Fishman said that the number of substantiated complaints — those the department deemed valid — has remained about the same over the past few years, with an average of 16 substantiated complaints per quarter since the beginning of 2013. 

Two mothers of Rikers inmates who died called 311 for help when they knew their sons were not receiving proper medical care, they told DNAinfo.

Sandra de la Cruz, whose son Andy Henriquez died while in Corizon's care, and June Broer, whose son Mark Johnson died of septic shock in Rikers, got the idea to call from inmates who knew it was a way to try and get attention from jail doctors. 

Broer called 311 at the suggestion of a fellow inmate who called her collect while her son was dying.

"I’m a very good friend of Mark’s,” she said he told her. "I just want you to know that Mark is very, very sick and they're denying him medical care."

By the time Johnson finally got care, it was too late. After days of vomiting in blood-soaked sheets, he had gone into septic shock. Upon emergency surgery, a liter of pus was removed from his abdominal cavity, according to Broer’s lawyer.

Corizon is being sued in hundreds of cases around the country for malpractice. In New York, it is indemnified against malpractice and civil rights suits, meaning the city will pay damages for which they are found responsible.