- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 27, 2018

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona Corrections Director Charles Ryan on Tuesday blamed a medical services contractor for the state’s failure to follow through on all its promises to improve inmate care.

Ryan testified during a federal court hearing on whether he should be found in contempt of court for providing inadequate health care to prisoners.

He said he was ultimately responsible for providing health care to the state’s roughly 35,000 inmates but repeatedly pointed the finger at Corizon Health Inc., saying it failed to make improvements the state promised in 2014 when it settled a lawsuit alleging shoddy health care.

“We have put forth, I believe, considerable effort in trying to have the vendor achieve compliance and fulfill it,” Ryan said.

U.S. Magistrate Judge David Duncan has threatened to hold Ryan and corrections official Richard Pratt in civil contempt. He also raised the possibility of fining the state $1,000 for each instance in December and January when the state failed to make the improvements.

The state has acknowledged more than 1,900 instances of noncompliance during those months.

Duncan convened the contempt hearing after repeatedly voicing frustration over what he called Arizona’s “abject failure” to make the improvements. Duncan has yet to rule.

The state has followed through on some promises. But the areas in which Duncan is requiring improvements include ensuring newly prescribed medications be provided to inmates within two days and making medical providers tell inmates about the results of pathology reports and other diagnostic studies within five days of receiving such records.

It wasn’t the first time Ryan has testified in the lawsuit.

Last summer, Duncan grilled Ryan over whether he tried to undermine an order that prohibited retaliation against prisoners who participated in the lawsuit.

Ryan testified Tuesday that his agency has imposed financial penalties on the company for noncompliance, demanded it bring in medical staff from other states to get the agency into compliance, and renegotiated a contract to ensure that Corizon would have to pay any fines arising from the lawsuit.

Under questioning from a lawyer for the inmates, Ryan said it wasn’t acceptable for Corizon to be in noncompliance for 20 straight months.

He also was questioned on the wisdom of negotiating a contract that let the Department of Corrections impose fines on Corizon of more than $600,000 while at the same time giving Corizon $2.5 million in incentives.

“It was a negotiated business decision,” Ryan said.

Corizon has served as the health care provider for Arizona’s prisons for the past five years and isn’t a target in the lawsuit.

Kurt Davis, a spokesman for Corizon, said in a statement that the company is held to nearly 900 performance measurements and has a 94 percent overall compliance as of January.

“Unfortunately, it does not make headline news to state the fact that inmates are receiving quality care and the system has been improving month over month since 2015,” Davis said.

The 2012 lawsuit alleged that Arizona’s 10 state-run prisons didn’t meet the basic requirements for providing adequate medical and mental health care. It said some prisoners complained that their cancer went undetected or they were told to pray to be cured after begging for treatment.

One inmate who had a history of prostate cancer had to wait more than two years for a biopsy.

The state denied allegations that it was providing inadequate care. The lawsuit was settled in 2014 without the state acknowledging wrongdoing.

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Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/jacques%20billeaud.


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