- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The ACLU of the Nation’s Capital and inmate advocates are encouraging the D.C. Council to reject a contract that would place a for-profit corporation they say has a history of providing poor care in charge of health care at the D.C. Jail.

The District’s Office of Contracting and Procurement recommends awarding the three-year, $66 million contract to provide medical, mental health, pharmacy and dental services to inmates at the Department of Corrections to Corizon Health Inc. The D.C. Council could vote on the contract Wednesday.

Advocates opposed to the agreement point to a long list of lawsuits filed against Corizon as well as some of their own personal experiences representing inmates at other facilities who received poor treatment from Corizon.

“We are not talking about aspirin versus Advil,” said Deborah Golden, director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee’s D.C. Prisoners’ Project, which advocates on behalf of inmates.

Ms. Golden went on to describe a now-settled lawsuit she was involved in against Corizon, which had previously overseen health care at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Troy, Virginia. She said women at the center were unable to get proper health care even for potentially fatal diseases during their time at the facility.

“We’re talking about a woman who had tumors poking out of her skin and they didn’t treat her,” Ms. Golden said.

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In a letter to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson urging the council to vote against the contract award to Corizon, the District’s ACLU director, Monica Hopkins-Maxwell, noted the number of lawsuits filed against the corporation.

“For-profit correctional health care is driven by profit margins which incentivize cheaper, lower quality provision of care,” Ms. Hopkins-Maxwell said. “As a result, Corizon has been sued 660 times during the last half-decade because of horrific deaths and permanent injuries to men and women in their care.”

The concerns were enough to give Mr. Mendelson pause over the issue.

Corizon has a reputation for attracting a lot of lawsuits in the area of inmate care,” Mr. Mendelson said Tuesday. “Until 2006, when the model for health care changed at the D.C. Jail and the current contractor was brought in, the city suffered huge, huge losses from lawsuits as a result of health care.”

Unity Health Care Inc., a local nonprofit organization, has provided health care for inmates since 2006. Mr. Mendelson noted that in the time that Unity has held the contract both the number of lawsuits filed against he District regarding inmate health care and the value of losses paid out in those cases has “plummeted.”

“That’s something that should not be risked,” he said.

For it’s part, Corizon officials note that the company won the D.C. contract through a competitive bid process and that the “majority of lawsuits filed against us are dismissed or resolved before they ever go to court.”

Corizon spokeswoman Courtney Eller also pointed to the retention rate of clients by the 35-year-old company as proof of its quality performance.

“We are proud of our quality client service which is evident in the fact that 80 percent of our clients have been with us for 5 years or more, and 55 percent of our clients have been with us for 10 years or more,” Ms. Eller said in a statement.

A copy of the council contract summary submitted to the D.C. Council states that Corizon’s bid to provide services for three years, with the ability to renew for two additional years, would cost 7 percent or $4.4 million more than the bid received by Unity Health Care, Inc.

“The prices proposed are within market reasonable for the direct labor staffing proposed, and the total proposed amount is within available budget for the Department of Corrections,” the summary reads. “The innovations proposed in their proposal plus the confidence in their ability to perform at the proposed price warrant award at the additional 7%.”

The D.C. Council does not have to take action on the contract Wednesday, though it has been placed on the council’s legislative schedule. If by Jan. 22 the council has not voted favorably for the contract, it will automatically be deemed disapproved.

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