Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner this week sent a letter to Corizon Health, Inc. detailing her concerns about allegations that the company is providing substandard healthcare to inmates at the Allegheny County Jail.
Those allegations first surfaced in a Dec. 8 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which revealed internal e-mails between jail staff and Corizon.
“We’re hearing reports such as inmates not receiving medicine on time or not being attended to within protocol,” Wagner said.
She said there also have been reports of pregnant inmates being denied ultrasounds, improper staffing of the jail, refusal to treat inmates with certain mental health issues and a lack of necessary equipment and supplies.
Wagner said she’s also concerned about the termination of Sister Barbara Finch, who has worked at the jail providing healthcare to prisoners since before Corizon took over the county contract in September 2013.
“Without giving her any reason whatsoever, she was let go from a position that she held for multiple years,” Wagner said.
The controller said she suspects the termination had something to do with Finch’s efforts to unionize the healthcare workers at the jail.
In an e-mail statement, Corizon spokeswoman Susan Morgenstern said the company told employees that joining a union "was their choice" and that the company "would honor their decision."
"On the issue of Barbara Finch, there's been a real misunderstanding," wrote Morganstern. "Her security clearance was revoked, but not by Corizon. We have no authority to grant or revoke clearances at the jail. However, once her clearance was revoked, it prevented her from access to the facility to care for patients. We are committed to working in partnership to deliver quality patient care which is our top priority."
Wagner’s letter also castigated Corizon for failing to show up at the most recent Jail Oversight Board meeting on Feb. 6.
“To me it sends a very clear message … really one of arrogance, when you are not going to show up in spite of the fact that you are receiving $11.5 million of taxpayer money, and there are some very serious allegations about the job you are doing,” Wagner said. “I’d expect anyone at the very least to show up and answer those questions.”
Wagner said her office can discipline Corizon for its alleged failure to fully comply with the contract it has with Allegheny County by levying fines on the company or withholding payments.
“At this point I would say auditing them is very likely, although … so many of the reports that we have have been substantiated by pretty solid paper trails of e-mails and interviews or meetings I’ve had to learn from people first-hand what is going on,” Wagner said. “I feel pretty confident in raising my concerns without waiting for the results of an audit.”