- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - A lawyer on Tuesday blamed a culture of indifference for the death of a severely ill woman who was passed from one Indiana prison to another so often that the state Department of Correction lost track of her.

Michael K. Sutherlin, the Indianapolis attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Rachel Wood’s family, blames the prison agency and Corizon, the Tennessee-based company hired to provide health care at the prison. Corizon has been accused of providing poor care at prisons it serves in other states.

“That is just the attitude of these guys, is saving money rather than providing health care,” Sutherlin said.

Wood, 26, was serving time for a first-time drug offense when she died in April 2012, court documents said. She had lupus and another immune system disorder, a blood clotting disorder and depression, the lawsuit filed Jan. 21 said.

“Notwithstanding the duty of the prison medical staff to provide adequate medical care to Rachel and to treat her very serious life threatening conditions, prison medical staff willfully and callously disregarded her condition, and allowed Rachel to deteriorate and die,” said the lawsuit, saying that Wood’s treatment amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

“It’s just an attitude of meanness,” Sutherlin said. “They’re not just insensitive, they’re mean.”

“Our goal is to provide quality health care to all our patients, and our teams work hard every day to fulfill that mission,” Corizon spokeswoman Susan Morgenstern said in a prepared statement, and declined further comment.

Bryan Corbin, a spokesman for the Indiana attorney general’s office, said the office would defend the state prison agency and would address the lawsuit in court.

Wood’s father, Claude Wood, 57, of Carmel, said prison officials misled him about the severity of her illness despite his repeated phone calls inquiring about her well-being and shuffled his calls from one facility to another and back again. Documents claim that the Department of Correction lost track of Wood’s whereabouts at one point and declared her an escapee while she remained in prison.

“They lied. We felt they hid her from us. Every time we got close they hid her from us,” Wood said.

The lawsuit filed this month in a Marion County court alleges that Rachel Wood was moved between prisons in Rockville and Madison and the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis, as well as several hospitals, after one of her fellow inmates told her father she had been taken away in an ambulance, bleeding from her eyes and mouth.

“She died a horrible death and she died alone,” said her father.

It isn’t the first time the care Corizon provides for prisoners has drawn fire.

Last October, Corizon made headlines when one of its nurses at an Arizona prison potentially exposed as many as 24 inmates to hepatitis and HIV by repeatedly using the same needles. Ten of the 24 were among a group of inmates who were involved in a similar scare at the same prison in August 2012.

The same month, Corizon lost a bid to renew its contract with the Minnesota Department of Corrections following staff complaints of substandard care and legal action against the company. A 2012 Star Tribune investigation found that at least nine Minnesota inmates had died since 2000 due to denial or delay of care while Corizon was the state’s prison medical contractor. More than 20 had suffered serious or critical injuries during that period, the newspaper’s investigation found.

The state’s three-year contract with Corizon sets a per diem fee of $9.41 per prisoner, with a cap of about $293 million over the three-year period from January 2014 through the end of 2016.

Privately held Corizon, whose website says it is the nation’s largest health care provider for prisons in the United States, was formed in 2011 by the merger of PHS Correctional Healthcare and Correctional Medical Services, its predecessor in Indiana. The company, based in Brentwood, Tenn., says it provides medical, dental, and mental health care to about 381,000 inmates in 28 states.

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