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CMS Fined Nearly $1 Million in Virginia

Correctional Medical Services (CMS) contracts with the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) to provide medical care to some of its 30,000 prisoners. In a 13-month period starting in January 1999 the VDOC levied nearly $1 million in fines against CMS for failing to live up to its contract, according to a Virginia state auditor's report.

From July 1998 to December 1999, the state of Virginia paid CMS $28 million to provide medical services at six of the state's prisons. The fines were levied for violations such as poor record keeping, failing to triage prisoners correctly (i.e. denying medical treatment to some prisoners), failing to properly assess prisoners' medical conditions and failure to provide timely referrals.

The company was fined $162,471 during the four month period from October 1999 to January 2000 for deficiencies cited at just one "supermax" facility, Wallens Ridge State Prison. State auditor Walter J. Kucharski noted that CMS failed to provide Wallens Ridge prisoners with a dentist for three months and has never had an optometrist on duty there, resulting in more than 130 prisoners awaiting eye-care services.

In the report released in July 2000, Kucharski urged the state to increase its fines against CMS: "It tray be cheaper for CMS to incur the penalty than to comply with the contract," Kucharski wrote.

He noted that the contract specifies a $5,000 penalty for prisoners not seeing a physician within seven days of a referral. But there is no penalty for a prisoner not seeing a dentist or optometrist.

CMS has been the target of complaints and lawsuits nationwide [See accompanying article: "Dying for Profits"]. The company has had problems before in Virginia. In 1995, CMS came under fire after 8 of 20 prisoners receiving dialysis at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarcatt, VA, died during an 11-month period beginning in December 1994.

Lawrence Frazier, a diabetic prisoner lapsed into a coma and died July 4, 2000--after being shocked repeatedly by stun gun-wielding guards June 29 in the Walls Ridge medical unit [See: "Stun Gun Death in VA Prison" on pg. 11 of this issue]. Witnesses say Frazier was upset and fought with guards because he wasn't getting his insulin.

Frazier was one of roughly 500 Connecticut prisoners exiled to Wallens Ridge to alleviate overcrowding there. In a lawsuit filed May 25 in federal court in Roanoke, VA, Frazier claimed he nearly died on the 22-hour bus trip from Connecticut in December because he wasn't given insulin. After he arrived at Wallens Ridge, Frazier claims, he was denied insulin on at least two other occasions.

A federal judge dismissed Frazier's suit June23 for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted--six days before he literally fought for his life (and lost) because he'd been denied insulin yet again.

Ken Fields, a CMS spokesman, said his company is working to improve service, but added that some of the issues raised by the audit are beyond the company's control. The problem, he said, stems from security procedures in "supermax" facilities like Wallens Ridge, where guards fail to deliver sick prisoners to the infirmary.

Michael Leminger, a VDOC spokesman, down played the importance of the state auditor's report. "They're not really talking about quality of health care, they're really talking about record-keeping," Leininger told the Hartford Courant.

State auditor Kucharsld said his audit did not attempt to address the competence of CMS staff; the accuracy of its diagnosis or the adequacy of staffing at the prisons. He said his job is determine whether CMS is living up to the specific provisions spelled out in its contract with the state and determine if the state is getting its money's worth.

"The answer is we're not" Kucharski said. "Even correction [officials] acknowledge that, or they wouldn't be fining these people."

But Christina, Police, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut DOC (which still houses more than 300 of its prisoners at Wallens Ridge and another 134 at the Greensville Correctional Carter) said her department is confident that Virginia officials will address the issues raised in the state auditor's report.

"Nothing in the audit leads us to believe that the medical care is inadequate," Police told the Hartford Courant.

Sources: Hartford Courant, The Associated Press, Reader Mail

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