Longtime Allegheny County Jail doctor sues new medical contractor

Firm Corizon won't hire her, she claims bias

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

A longtime physician for the Allegheny County Jail has filed a complaint with the state Human Relations Commission claiming that a new medical contractor's decision not to hire her is driven by bias against women, immigrants and doctors who speak out against penny-pinching treatment of inmates.

Lucille Aiken of Fox Chapel was told in recent days by Tennessee-based Corizon that she won't be retained when that company takes over jail medical services, effective Sunday. She said that another doctor, also an immigrant, also has been told that he won't be needed, leaving just two of the four infirmary physicians to handle a jail population that usually tops 2,500.

"Dr. Aiken is Italian by birth. She is 64 years old. She is a woman," said her attorney, Susan Mahood. "It's a matter of record that she testified truthfully in the [David] Kipp case," in which an inmate said he was beaten by a corrections officer, and Dr. Aiken said that her order to hospitalize him was rejected by her bosses.

Ms. Mahood said that the commission complaint against Corizon and Allegheny Correctional Health Services will be followed by a civil rights lawsuit because Dr. Aiken's rights to equal protection and free speech have been violated.

A Corizon spokesman, in an email response to an interview request, wrote that the company "does not publicly discuss specific personnel issues. We can say that we have retained the most qualified health-care providers for this facility, and our staffing plan for the Allegheny County Jail will enable us to provide medical coverage for the jail's patients 24 hours a day, seven days a week, thereby improving the overall level of service."

A county spokeswoman referred all questions to Corizon, saying the firm is solely responsible for staffing.

Dr. Aiken left private practice to work at the jail in 2002. She said Friday that she wanted to bring her "compassionate approach to people who probably never had that."

She was surprised to find that the vast majority of the jail population was African-American, as is her husband. "I felt like I was working at a clinic in Africa," she said.

Jail health care has been handled by Allegheny Correctional, a nonprofit entity created by the county Health Department. Dr. Aiken said she often sparred with Allegheny Correctional chief operations officer Dana Phillips.

"Sending people out [to hospitals] was always discouraged by Dana Phillips," said Dr. Aiken. "I was the only one to write [prescriptions for] a lot of tests," and her bosses would complain "because I spend more money."

Ms. Phillips could not be reached Friday.

In December 2010, two months after Mr. Kipp was beaten by then-corrections officer Arii Metz, Dr. Aiken testified at the preliminary hearing against the guard. She testified that she had wanted to send Mr. Kipp immediately to the hospital for what turned out to be a broken nose and broken eardrum, as well as severe facial swelling. Her order, though, was countermanded and it took her two days to get him seen at a hospital.

Dr. Aiken said she testified before the federal grand jury that indicted Mr. Metz for violating Mr. Kipp's civil rights. Mr. Metz has pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing, set for Oct. 15.

She said she was then "bashed" in staff meetings, and reprimanded for taking too long to get from the jail entrance to the infirmary. She underwent depositions in some of the civil lawsuits alleging indifferent medical care by the jail and did not flinch from criticizing poor treatment, she said.

Lawsuits have plagued Allegheny Correctional, and county Executive Rich Fitzgerald launched a competitive process to choose a new jail health provider.

On July 9, correctional medical staff got letters from jail administration announcing the county's decision to hire Corizon. Dr. Aiken applied with the company, and said she was encouraged after talking with visiting executives about her background as a board certified internist and endocrinologist. The firm, she was told, would keep well-qualified, experienced Allegheny Correctional employees.

However, after Corizon executives had meetings with top Allegheny Correctional staff, the incoming contractor called Dr. Aiken to tell her that it would not be retaining her.

"What she gets is a phone call from some guy that [Corizon] just can't give you your hours," said Ms. Mahood. "What does that have to do with her qualifications and experience?"

Dr. Aiken filed the commission complaint Aug. 14. Her employment at the jail ends today leaving her without health insurance and with only an occasional, part-time role at State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh.

Dr. Aiken said she was told Corizon would reduce the physician staff from four full-time doctors to one full-time and one part-time. She said the firm plans to use more physicians assistants, nurse practitioners and nurses instead. Corizon's spokesman would not detail the firm's plans to staff the jail infirmary.

homepage - region

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or on Twitter @richelord.


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?