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City Council Slams Rikers Medical Provider at Hearing

 Dr. Jay Cowan and Dr. Calvin Johnson testified on behalf of Corizon.
Dr. Jay Cowan and Dr. Calvin Johnson testified on behalf of Corizon.
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DNAinfo/Rosa Goldensohn

CIVIC CENTER — City politicians slammed the scandal-plagued Rikers Island health care provider Corizon at a contentious hearing Tuesday over its role in numerous inmate deaths.

Officials said that they wanted the city to fire the for-profit health care provider. 

"Corizon has fallen short in far too many cases," said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley. 

"We need a more efficient health care provider in our jails," she added, addressing Health Department officials. "That is your job."

City Councilman Corey Johnson called the hearing to address recent reports of a series of preventable deaths and inadequate medical care at Rikers Island.

The hearing came on the same day that the family of a construction worker who died "an agonizingly painful and slow death" from an untreated bleeding ulcer sued the city.

Corizon, a Tennessee-based company, holds three contracts worth more than $400 million to administer medical care at Rikers. 

Johnson said current leaders "inherited a goddamn mess from the Bloomberg administration."

"What the hell was happening [at Rikers] all these years?" the councilman asked. 

Crowley and Johnson grilled representatives from Corizon, which has yearly revenue of more than a billion dollars, according to Moody’s reports.  

Dr. Calvin Johnson, Corizon’s chief medical officer, said the company was doing its best.

"I think it is unfair to characterize us as wanting to or seeming to want to withhold care,” the doctor said. “It is an ongoing challenge, there is no question about it.”

Corey Johnson and Crowley described patients who died of treatable conditions, such as 19-year-old Andy Henriquez

“That young boy died in his cell because he had a tear in his aorta and never once did he get a chest x-ray,” Crowley said of Henriquez. “And that’s Corizon.”

Crowley suggested the job be turned over to the city’s public hospital system, the Health and Hospitals Corporation. 

“We have some of the best public hospitals in the world. Why can’t we have that care for our inmates? Why are we contracting out to a [for-]profit company?” Crowley asked.

Higher-ups in the health department and at City Hall are working on alternatives to Corizon, according to Dr. Sonia Angell of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. 

“We fully recognize that the model of care delivery that we have isn’t meeting the goals of this administration and our community at large,” she told the council members.

Health Department leadership is “working very closely” with City Hall, HHC, the Department of Corrections, the Office of Management and Budget and the city’s legal department on potential new arrangements for Rikers, Angell added. 

Corizon's contracts with the city expire on Dec. 31, 2015.