Wagner criticizes Allegheny County Jail health care

County controller calls conditions ‘outrageous’

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The situation regarding health care for inmates and working conditions for infirmary workers at the Allegheny County Jail is "intolerable and outrageous," Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner wrote in a letter she sent Tuesday to the CEO of Corizon Health Inc., the Tennessee-based firm that runs the jail's health services.

In the letter, Ms. Wagner described what she said are "grave and serious concerns" about health care and working conditions at the jail, which she had hoped to raise to Corizon officials personally at a Thursday meeting of the Jail Oversight Board, she wrote. But no representative of Corizon attended that meeting, she said.

Instead, on Tuesday, she sent a letter to Corizon CEO Woodrow A. Myers Jr. in which she described several complaints her office has received regarding Corizon's work at the jail. Corizon, a national prison health care provider that signed a contract with the county last summer for $11.5 million a year, took over management of health services in September.

Ms. Wagner wrote that her office has received "numerous complaints" about Corizon, including that the company does not submit paperwork in a timely manner so discharged patients can receive medical treatment without delays; that inmates are discharged without their necessary or the correct prescriptions; that Corizon refuses to treat patients with certain mental health issues; and that Corizon is not properly staffing the jail.

She also referenced a Dec. 9, 2013, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article that described treatment of pregnant inmates. And she referenced the firing last week of Barbara Finch, a move she called "unconscionable." Sister Finch, who is a nun, was a nurse at the jail who spearheaded unionization efforts.

United Steelworkers representatives filed a petition in January to unionize about 110 members of the jail medical staff, and the National Labor Relations Board has scheduled an election vote for Friday.

Ms. Wagner, in her letter, said that a transition period is often expected when a new contract is begun, but she said for Corizon, the period "has long since expired."

"This letter places Corizon on formal notice of my grave and serious concerns about the healthcare provided to inmates at the Allegheny County Jail and the working conditions to which Corizon is subjecting its employees at the Jail," Ms. Wagner said in a news release. "The current situation is unacceptable. I expect changes to be implemented immediately, or else my office will take necessary actions."

In her letter, Ms. Wagner reminded Dr. Myers that the county can assess monetary penalties if the issues she mentioned were not resolved.

"We have received the Controller's letter and plan to respond to her concerns in writing," said Susan Morgenstern, a spokeswoman for Corizon.

In a statement, William D. McKain said that his role as county manager is to administer county operations, including the many contracts involved.

"With so many contracts, there are various successes and challenges, along with transitional issues -- and that includes this contract," he said.

Mr. McKain said he works to ensure accountability on a daily basis by communicating with contractors and working through issues with county departments.

"I am confident that I, and my team, are doing exactly that with each and every one of our contracts," he said in a statement.

Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. First Published February 11, 2014 3:01 PM

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