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Prison Health Provider Gets Correction Plan

barbed wire prison fence
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

What has changed at a North Central Florida prison since life threatening conditions were found?

Health care at the Florida Women’s Reception Center in Ocala was found to be life threatening, according to an audit. Health Reporter Abe Aboraya broke the story about the audit and spoke with Morning Edition Host Renata Sago.

RENATA: So what happened?

ABE: The Correctional Medical Authority audits the health care provided in Florida prisons. And when they went into the Florida Women’s Reception Center in Ocala, they found life-threatening conditions. So typically what happens when they do these audits is they come in, release a report a month later, and everyone works to correct the issues auditors find. Here, though, things were bad enough to warrant an emergency.

RENATA: What was so bad?

ABE: The care of four inmates was especially bad. A diabetic prisoner didn’t get insulin for two to three months. One inmate with a golfball sized lump was denied an MRI in July, and no one scheduled her to see a surgeon. Another inmate with a history of cervical cancer had an abnormal screening in May, but no follow-up until August – despite having symptoms that the cancer had spread to her brain. And there was no evidence an inmate with a psychotic and mood disorder got medications for three months.

RENATA: What happened after these issues were found?

ABE: Corizon is the private company contracted by the state to provide health care in prisons. After this emergency notification, they responded by bringing in 78 doctors and nurses to the prison. They spent a day doing face-to-face interviews with all the inmates to see what health care issues might still be remaining. And on that day, Corizon says of the 900 or so inmates, three were found to need emergency care: Two for medical reasons and one for psychiatric reasons.

RENATA: So Abe, is there a pattern of these kinds of issues at this women’s prison?

ABE: One of the core reasons there were so many issues at this prison is the record keeping. Auditors said there was “notable disorganization” among the records that made it difficult or impossible to follow a course of treatment for an inmate. And these record keeping problems in particular were previously known, weren’t addressed and were described as systemic.

RENATA: How has the Florida Department of Corrections handled this?

ABE: The Florida Department of Corrections oversees the Corizon contract. They created a nine-page correction plan for the prison. And from here on out, the Ocala women’s prison will get regular site audits and checkups to make this doesn’t happen again. I spoke with Florida Department of Corrections Spokesman McKinley Lewis. He says the major issues have been resolved. He says now they are working on the more minor issues, and making sure steps taken to fix the big problems stay fixed.

“Not just when we put them in place, and it’s like OK, fix this now,” Lewis said. “We want to make sure they stay that way and there’s longevity to that plan.”

RENATA: What has Corizon said about these audits?

ABE: Corizon isn’t doing interviews, but they wrote in a statement that the Florida Women’s Reception Center is one of the tougher locations to provide care. You see, it’s not a typical women’s prison where you have a stable population. Instead, this is where women start off before being sent to other prisons for their full sentence. And Corizon officials say the population here has swelled since they took over the contract, from about 400 prisoners to about 900. Corizon is adding staff to the site. And Corizon says the audit provided valuable information that led to changes in who is running the site.

RENATA: But this isn’t a new problem for Corizon, is it?

ABE: No. Corizon was sued 660 times for malpractice before it was awarded the Florida contract. And Corizon has plagued with stories like this since it took over the health care of prisoners. Investigations from the Miami Herald and others havefound suspicious deaths in prisons, health care issues like treating cancer with Tylenol and ibuprofen have been documented by the Palm Beach Post. Keep in mind, Corizon was hired with the promise of saving Florida 7 percent per year on health care costs for prisoners. But in light of these kinds of stories, Florida will actually re-open this prison contract in late December or January.

See below for Corizon’s full statement:

Health care for inmates at 150 locations in Regions I, II, and III of the Florida prison system is provided by Corizon Health under a contract with the Florida Department of Corrections. The Florida Women’s Reception Center is one of the more challenging locations in which to provide care as it is the central point of entry for all women entering the state prison system, particularly as the number of inmates at the facility was increased to almost 1,000 patients from the previous 400 shortly after the facility transitioned to Corizon Health.

We were aware of challenges at the site prior to the Correctional Medical Authority audit – and were taking steps, such as adding staff, to resolve them – but the review provided valuable information to Corizon that led to changes in site leadership. Within days of the CMA report, to ensure all inmates were receiving appropriate care, 78 additional Corizon employees were brought to the FWRC from locations throughout Florida for a day of face-to-face interviews with all 895 inmates housed at the facility with our doctors and nurses standing by to conduct immediate triage of medical complaints. Of those almost 900 patients, three patients were found to need emergent care; two for medical issues and one for a mental health issue.

We were gratified that representatives of the Department of Corrections reported to the Correctional Medical Authority that Corizon’s reaction to the emergency order has been excellent and we look forward to the CMA’s re-inspection of our operations at the FWRC.

Reporter Abe Aboraya is part of WMFE in Orlando. Health News Florida receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Health News Florida reporter Abe Aboraya works for WMFE in Orlando. He started writing for newspapers in high school. After graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2007, he spent a year traveling and working as a freelance reporter for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, and working for local news websites in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently Abe worked as a reporter for the Orlando Business Journal. He comes from a family of health care workers.