Corizon’s Long Term Problems Catch Up on Riker’s Island
The serious problems with Corizon Health have been known for years by New York City officials.The for-profit company oversees medical care in New York at Rikers Island as well as numerous other prisons and jails nationally.
The most recent problem came when the city’s Department of Investigation revealed the company had been hiring physicians and mental health workers with a history of disciplinary problems as well as criminal convictions; including murder and kidnapping. The statement also announced that at least two recent inmate deaths were attributable to Corizon.
While the investigation was looking at the violations, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he would not be renewing Corizon’s contract.
“We have a responsibility to give every individual in our city care with quality health services; our prisoners aren’t different,” de Blasio said.
The company, which has managed health care at the city’s jails for 15-years is not only ending, but the company’s failures highlight the challenge of providing quality care to the prisoners at Rikers.
New York has often tried to replace Corizon with a nonprofit hospital but had problems convincing anyone to submit a bid.
Finally, the Health and Hospitals Corporation will take Corizon’s place. HHC, which already oversees the city’s public hospitals, should take over by the end of the year.
The Department of Health, along with the Department of Corrections also came under the investigation’s scrutiny. Investigators found a foot-high pile of folders which included over 650 fingerprint cards that were meant for background checks but had been stacked on a filing cabinet and forgotten — for years.
Corizon said that though it respected the mayor’s choice, it disputes the findings of investigators; they blamed the correction and health agencies for any problems.
New York City was one of Corizon’s biggest contracts, but it was not the only. The company oversees medical care in over 45 prisons in 27 states.
Previously known as Prison Health Services, Corizon has repeatedly received criticism from the news media and government regulators. In 2001, within three months of getting the jail agreement in New York, Corizon was fined over $100,000 by the city for neglecting to meet standards.
Besides medical failures, city investigators found that about 50 percent of personnel files of health care workers didn’t show evidence of a background check of any kind. The result was employing individuals with significant criminal convictions including one clinician who had been involved in a burglary that had ended in a stabbing death.
Anthony Shorris, the deputy mayor, pointed out that beyond Corizon’s track record, the idea of a for-profit health provider was contrary to the mayor’s philosophy.
In a long rebuttal to the city’s report, Corizon criticized investigators for failing to pinpoint the employees referenced in the report. Under the contract, Corizon claimed, the DOC was responsible for conducting the background checks. The company also argued that because of antidiscrimination laws, potential employees could not be disqualified on the basis of their criminal history.
Mark Peters, the Investigation Department Director, disagreed.
“If someone did 13 years for kidnapping or second-degree murder, I think they shouldn’t be working at Rikers,” he said.
A glaring problem in the report was the failure to process the fingerprint cards for job applicants. Between 2011 and 2015, cards arrived regularly at Alan Vengersky, the deputy commissioner.
Vengersky’s admin assistant told investigators that no one seemed to know what to do with the cards; so they were stacked on the filing cabinet.
Corizon continued to charge each potential employee a $75 processing fee. Despite investigators telling DOC about the problem, it was another four months before officials did something.