PHOENIX (AP) — A company that just took over health care for Arizona prison inmates in July has already been fined $10,000 by the Arizona Department of Corrections and is also accused of improperly dispensing medicine and wasting state resources.
Pittsburg-based Wexford Health Sources Inc., was fined for the actions of a nurse who caused a hepatitis C scare in August at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis in Buckeye, and for failing to properly report the problem to authorities.
A sharply-worded letter to the company from the department also called on the company to fix staffing problems, properly distribute and document medication for inmates, show a sense of urgency and communicate better with the state when problems occur.
The Arizona Republic (http://bit.ly/PDzTbH ) learned of the fine and the so-called "cure letter" Friday after filing a public records request. In a statement to the paper, Corrections Director Charles Ryan said the state's demands give Wexford and correction officials an opportunity to "improve communications and ensure the health care needs of the inmates incarcerated by the State of Arizona are being met."
Wexford took over inmate care July 1 after winning a $349 million, three-year contract. The contract was issued after the Republican-controlled Arizona Legislature pushed to privatize inmate health care to save money.
But a series of problems quickly developed, including the nurse causing a hepatitis scare and many cases of prisoners not receiving their medication.
The company plans to appeal the fine, Wexford spokesman Jason Rose said. In a letter to Ryan, Wexford contends that he conditions of health care in the state prison system were poor and problems existed prior to privatization.
In the state cure letter, a series of problems were noted. They included a Wexford nurse administering medication to an inmate by having the inmate "lick the powdered medication from her own hand," instead of putting the medication in a small cup of water.
Other problems included a significant number of inmates not receiving medication. One of those was a Florence inmate who was found hanging in his cell Aug. 23 after not getting his psychotropic medication for the entire month. The letter does not state if the inmate died.
The state said Wexford showed a "lack of urgency" to correct the medication problems, and the state had to deploy staff "to identify inmates in need of medication renewals."
Wexford has had issues in other states. Clark County, Wash., declined to renew a contract with Wexford in 2009 after complaints that Wexford was not dispensing medications to inmates in a timely fashion. New Mexico terminated a statewide contract with Wexford in 2007 after an audit found shortages of physicians, dentists and other prison medical staff.
Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com