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Wexford Enters Into Confidential Settlement in New Mexico Prisoner’s Death

by David M. Reutter

Pennsylvania-based Wexford Health Services, which bills itself as “the nation’s leading innovative correctional health care company,” entered into a confidential settlement with the estate of a New Mexico prisoner who died due to deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.

When prisoner Michael Crespin arrived at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility (CNMCF) in March 2006, he was undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer. After his December 2005 arrest and incarceration, Crespin had complained of abdominal pain. He was taken to the University of New Mexico Hospital (UNMH) where he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery.

The surgery left him with a colostomy bag and a prescription for medications and chemotherapy. Although Crespin advised Wexford personnel at CNMCF of his condition, he was isolated from medical staff. And despite his requests, and those of his treating physician at UNMH, Wexford employees lost track of Crespin’s cancer treatment.

Over the next several months, Crespin “missed approximately 14 to 16, or more, medical appointments at UNMH,” according to his subsequent federal lawsuit. “Most of the appointments were for chemotherapy at UNMH.”

The treating physician and staff at UNMH repeatedly called Wexford staff and CNMCF’s warden to inform them “of the critical nature of these appointments to the Decedent’s health and that continuing his regular treatments was literally a life or death matter.”

Wexford doctors promised that Crespin’s treatments would occur on a regular basis; however, that didn’t happen. A nurse practitioner from UNMH, Holly C. Rice, spoke to Wexford physician Harvey I. Featherstone in early August 2006 to advise him that “stopping Decedent’s treatments would result in his untimely death.”

Although Crespin was moved to CNMCF’s infirmary, he continued to miss chemotherapy appointments due to a shortage of nurses and too few transportation guards. “The prison hospital was filthy,” his lawsuit stated, and Crespin soon developed a kidney infection.

That was the least of his problems, as a new tumor was found in his abdomen in the fall of 2006. Wexford denied UNMH’s recommended treatment to take down the colostomy and remove the tumor. It was only after investigative reporters began looking into Crespin’s case, and “multiple other and serious instances of Wexford’s deliberate indifference in providing medical services,” that the treatment plan recommended by UNMH was followed.

Sadly, it was too late. Crespin, 50, died on July 2, 2008. He had filed a lawsuit prior to his death which was continued by his estate; the claims against Wexford settled under confidential terms in November 2010. See: Crespin v. Ulibarri, U.S.D.C. (D. New Mexico), Case No. 1:08-cv-00246-WJ-RHS.

PLN has previously reported on the regular business practices of Wexford and other private prison medical providers to maximize profits by understaffing and denying medical care to prisoners, then entering into confidential settlements after prisoners die or suffer injury as a result of that business model. [See: PLN, Dec. 2010, p.27; Nov. 2009, p.16; Nov. 2006, p.1].

The New Mexico Corrections Department terminated its contract with Wexford on June 30, 2007. Wexford claims that it provides services to “more than 100 state, regional, and local facilities across the country,” and “helps government agencies and institutions control health care costs while maintaining quality of care.”

Additional sources: Albuquerque Journal,

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Related legal case

Crespin v. Ulibarri