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City Council to Demand More Oversight of Rikers Health Care Provider

By Rosa Goldensohn | March 2, 2015 5:09pm | Updated on March 2, 2015 5:32pm
 Andy Henriquez as a teenager before he was incarcerated, left, and after his death at age 19 in a solitary cell at Rikers.
Andy Henriquez as a teenager before he was incarcerated, left, and after his death at age 19 in a solitary cell at Rikers.
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DNAinfo/Rosa Goldensohn

CIVIC CENTER — Officials from the city's Department of Health and the company that runs medical services on Rikers Island will go before the City Council’s health committee Tuesday to address concerns raised by a series of deaths from medical failures there.

City Councilman Corey Johnson is holding the hearing to question representatives from the troubled health care provider, Corizon, as well as the Department of Health, the Department of Corrections and Rikers' employee unions in the wake of a series of scathing reports about Corizon.

"There has been a rash of really tragic and unacceptable incidences on Rikers as it relates to Rikers inmates not getting the health care that they require and deserve," Johnson told DNAinfo New York.

"So this hearing is going to look at Corizon's performance, and also find out where the buck stops. You know, we have the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Department of Corrections and Corizon, and we have to find out who is in fact taking responsibility."

A Corizon spokesman said in a statement  that the company was looking forward to the hearing.

"Corizon Health’s top priority is and always will be providing quality healthcare to patients who enter incarceration with more illnesses and chronic conditions than the general population," spokesman Andrew Moyer wrote. "As an organization committed to continuous improvement, we look forward to speaking to the New York City Council."

Johnson is currently sponsoring a bill to increase city oversight of medical care at city jails. The proposed legislation would require the Health Department to submit an annual report to the mayor and city council speaker regarding patient safety, preventable errors in medical care and internal evaluations of medical providers, his office said.

The city's Department of Health, which is responsible for overseeing medical care for inmates in city jails, has defended its contract with the Tennessee-based Corizon, which has lost contracts with other cities amid allegations of medical malpractice.

This fall, DNAinfo uncovered reports of eight inmate deaths at Rikers in which state investigators found Corizon’s care to be substandard. The deaths, caused by a range of untreated conditions such as sepsis and asthma, were deemed preventable by the State Commission of Correction. In one case, Devernon Legrand, 43, was refused medical treatment less than an hour before he died of an asthma attack. 

In a series of damning reports, the State Commission of Correction repeatedly questioned whether Corizon was capable of overseeing chronic conditions such as asthma, and called the company “a business corporation holding itself out as a medical care provider.”

The Department of Corrections and the Department of Health did not respond to requests for comment.


SCOC reports for NYC medical deaths

Despite these critical reports and others, Corizon continued to win large city contracts, in part because local hospitals could not be persuaded to take on the job of providing health care at Rikers, DNAinfo previously reported.

Corizon, a for-profit corporation owned by Chicago private equity firm Beecken Petty O’Keefe, formerly operated under the name Prison Health Services, and has held the city’s jail contract for more than a decade.  

Unlike in other states where Corizon has paid out in major settlements, New York City has indemnified Corizon, meaning taxpayers foot the bill for its civil rights violations and malpractice suits, according to the city contract.

The state investigates questionable deaths at Rikers, but those reports are not made public, even to family members, DNAinfo reported in October.