Report finds deficiencies in health care services for Maine inmates

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff
Posted Jan. 06, 2012, at 4:25 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Some prisoners at Maine’s correctional facilities are going without medication and are not getting timely treatment, according to a report presented to lawmakers Friday.

The Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability has been reviewing health care practices at Department of Corrections facilities for more than a year. One result of its work could be a new provider of medical services for the state’s correctional facilities.

In September 2010, a review of 24 prisoners at the Maine Correctional Facility and Maine State Prison found that for nearly half of them no evidence existed that their prescribed medications were dispensed.

A review of those prisoners’ medical files at the same time found that 15 did not have completed intake checklists and 11 had incomplete intake forms; 12 prisoners either did not receive an annual physical or had an inaccurate file of their physical assessment.

Additionally, for the 24 prisoners whose files were reviewed, there were a total of 203 sick calls. Of those, 23 were not resolved in a timely manner or not resolved at all.

“While [the Maine Department of Corrections] and its contractors generally provide more than adequate care to the prisoner population, deficiencies in contractor compliance with MDOC health care policies and adherence to professional standards were noted,” the OPEGA report summarized. “Some of these deficiencies appear to be persistent, with clear implications for the adequacy and timeliness of services provided to prisoners.”

The report outlined a number of suggested changes and some already have taken place since Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte assumed office last year.

The biggest change could be a new private contractor for prisoner health care services, prescription medications or both.

The state contracts now are held by Tennessee-based Corizon and CorrectRx, a Maryland firm. For fiscal year 2012, the state budgeted $12 million for health care services provided by Corizon and $3.26 million for pharmaceutical services provided by CorrectRx.

Both contracts have been renewed and amended multiple times, but have not been subjected to competitive bids in several years, a fact highlighted by the OPEGA report.

A request for proposals from private health care companies seeking to do business with the Maine DOC is now in the works.

A decision on new contracts is expected to made by July, but members of the Government Oversight Committee indicated Friday that they would be surprised if Corizon or CorrectRx see their contracts renewed.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who is chairman of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, said given the deficiencies outlined in the OPEGA report and the fact that Corizon only started making changes recently he doesn’t see the firm as a good option. Other committee members echoed that sentiment.

Corizon officials defended their tenure in Maine but also agreed with some of the recommendations contained in the OPEGA report.

“Every day Corizon’s 175 Maine-based employees and independent contractors address the health care needs of more than 2,000 individuals housing in the department’s nine facilities,” regional vice president Larry Amberger told the committee. “Each of us at Corizon takes that responsibility seriously.”

Katz asked Amberger directly why the state should consider keeping that company given the deficiencies outlined. The Corizon official replied he believes that despite the OPEGA report findings, the quality of service provided by Corizon has been high.

Since he took the post, Commissioner Ponte has pledged to reduce costs within his department and has said recently that progress has been made. For instance, under the previous administration, there were seven prescriptions on average per inmate, he said. That already has been reduced to an average of five.

Another area of change is the discontinuation of certain medical procedures for inmates that used to be provided, such as knee replacement surgery.

One of OPEGA’s top recommendations was to create a better monitoring system of private contractors and to offer better staff training, something that has been lacking dating back to the previous administration.

“MDOC has not had a strong and effective system for monitoring contractor performance and compliance or held the contractor sufficiently accountable for resolving issues when the were identified,” the report read.

Prisoner advocates testified on Friday about the findings of the OPEGA report and urged lawmakers to ensure the humane treatment of prisoners.

Whether the state rehires Corizon or CorrectRx or brings in new firms, Katz said those companies likely will be subject to more scrutiny and accountability.

The Government Oversight Committee is expected to hold one more work session on the OPEGA report before taking further action.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/01/06/politics/report-finds-deficiencies-in-health-care-services-for-maine-inmates/ printed on December 20, 2014