Condolences to the family of Glen Huggins and every other AZ DOC prisoner who has died from the violence of deliberate indifference under this governorship. May we soon see an end to the drug war, and the beginning of the end to our legislature giving blessings to those who would maximize profit by stealing public resources from the sick and dying. The prisoners, the ACLU-AZ and the Prison Law Office, among others, are doing their part to fight the parasites our state does business with, having filed Parsons v Ryan (which goes to trial in October, unless it's settled first). Please do your part as well, and honor Glen's dying wish that no more prisoners have to suffer as he did: hold all these people accountable. Demand that your legislators launch an investigation into the DOC's ineffective leadership, high number of unnecessary prisoner deaths, and poor oversight of contract agencies. You can find them here:
1700 West Washington
Phoenix, AZ 85007-2890
Her contact info is here:
The Honorable Janice K. Brewer
1700 West Washington Street
Phoenix, AZ 85007
Thank you to CH 12/KPNX and Wendy Halloran, from the prisoners and the family members I've spoken to about Corizon and the AZ DOC's complicity in depriving state prisoners of the most basic things they need to survive - which begins with recognizing their humanity, as well as our own.
Here are a couple of other blog posts that give concrete info about fighting the AZ DOC on medical issues.
Please also contact KPNX/AZ Republic's parent company, to tell them we need more stories like the one below, because prisoners' lives matter. Cut and paste this email to reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Costs up, no improvement in prison healthcare quality
First they refused to admit there's a dire problem. Now, after a 12 News investigation, the Arizona Department of Corrections is offering to settle up with inmates in a class-action lawsuit filed in 2012.
We first brought you the story of inmates not getting proper healthcare, even though taxpayers are footing the bill, in May. Our reporting revealed there were at least 16,000 delays in medical care to Arizona inmates in 2013.
So far, the only action taken has been imposing fines on Corizon, the company contracted to provide healthcare for inmates in the state.
HEALTHCARE RATE INCREASE
The state has paid Corizon $130 million a year to provide healthcare for inmates. Arizona taxpayers have paid, on average, $348,000 per day.
In July, a rate increase went into effect, from $10.10 per inmate per day to $10.42, due to changes made by ADC. According to Corizon's contract, the increase is to pay for 34 more staff positions to hand out medications. This followed an ADC policy change regarding what medications inmates were allowed to self-administer after multiple suicides and overdoses.
So costs have gone up, but newly released records obtained by 12 News show the problems inside the state's prisons are getting worse.
ADC-employed monitors routinely document Corizon's performance in monthly reports known as MGARs. In our review of the new batch of reports covering November of last year through April, we found numerous cases of delay, lack of treatment, noncompliance with the terms of the contract, ADC monitors noting staff shortages, and lack of medication and psychiatric care for mentally ill prisoners.
THE STORY OF INMATE GLEN HUGGINS
On December 15, 2013, Glen Huggins had 72 hours left to live.
Huggins was serving a 12-year prison sentence on drug convictions at the state prison in Tucson. He had already served eight years when he suddenly became gravely ill.
In August of 2013 Huggins complained to prison staff in Tucson about abdominal pain. He filled out what is known as an HNR, a Health Needs Requests inmates are required to fill out to get medical care. He complained he had not been able to swallow his food and keep it down since June, and had been losing weight.
More than a week later, a nurse saw Huggins. His symptoms were documented but his case was deemed "not urgent."
At the end of August, a nurse practitioner saw Huggins and, thinking the pain was due to Hepatitis C and acid reflux, gave him an antacid.
"That wasn't doing anything," Huggins' son, Cody, told us. "Meanwhile he's still losing weight, he can't swallow."
Huggins' family provided 12 News his medical records, which show he had a family history of cancer.
We asked Dr. Palav Babaria, a primary-care physician in Oakland, California to review the documents and give her opinion on whether the family's allegations of delays in care were accurate.
Dr. Babaria has done work for the Prison Law Office, one of the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit against the Department of Corrections.
"For someone like Mr. Huggins, who had the medical history that he had, any complaints of not being able to swallow accompanied by profound weight loss he was talking about, I think any competent physician would have worried about cancer until proven otherwise," said Dr. Babaria.
On September 17, Huggins wrote in an HNR the antacids he was taking weren't working and his condition was getting worse.
In an October request, Huggins wrote a nurse had seen him eight times and an abdominal X-ray was normal, but still no doctor was assigned to examine him.
He filed more HNRs complaining of continued difficulty swallowing food and keeping food down. He wrote that the antacids were not helping with his pain.
Dr. Babaria says an abdominal X-ray was not an appropriate test.
"The two easiest ways of doing that are getting X-rays called a barium swallow, and see if liquid that shows up on the X-ray is passing or not, or just doing an endoscopy, going down with a camera to get a really good look and do biopsies," she said.
Dr. Babaria says, in Huggins' case, it seems that none of that was done when he first complained of the symptoms. Instead he was treated as if he only had acid reflux.
According to records obtained by 12 News, Huggins was just one of several inmates at the Tucson prison who suffered from a lack of medical care.
The Department of Corrections' own monitors documented long delays for inmates to be seen by outside specialists. Only nine patients out of 33 received urgent consultations in a timely manner. The requirement is that urgent consultations are done within 30 days, which goal Corizon met only 27% of the time.
A SON'S STRUGGLE
Reading his father's HNRs was upsetting for Cody Huggins.
"You see a man that is just pleading for help and asking for help practically begging for help there at the end," he said.
According to Huggins' prison records, on October 23, 2013 a possible diagnosis of cancer is noted after a mass extending from Huggins' chest to his navel was discovered. This was made by the Corizon nurse practitioner.
Only then did Corizon approve sending Huggins to an outside hospital. The first time Huggins was seen by a doctor was when he arrived in the emergency room. According to Huggins' medical records, within an hour, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 esophageal cancer.
The cancer spread from his esophagus to other parts of his body. The doctors could not put a stint in to open up his esophagus because of the size of the tumor. Instead, they inserted a feeding tube in his stomach so he could get some nourishment.
His medical records show he lost almost 40 pounds in the months he kept requesting treatment and reporting problems.
On December 5, 2013 the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency recommended his sentence be commuted due to "imminent danger of death."
Gov. Jan Brewer signed a clemency order on December 11. Huggins was medically paroled the next day. His family took him home to die.
Huggins died on December 18, less than a week after his release.
Cody Huggins called it inhumane and hopes this doesn't happen to any other inmates or their families.
Dr. Babaria says the degree of suffering was preventable.
Now, Huggins' family plans to file suit against Corizon, accusing the healthcare provider of denying Huggins adequate and competent care.
Corizon denies any wrongdoing in Huggins' death. The company issued this statement:
"State and federal privacy laws forbid disclosure by Corizon of any identifiable patient medical information, let alone argument of factual claims regarding patient care in the news media. We can state that the allegations made by Ms. Halloran related to the patient's access to nursing staff and medical providers are not supported by the medical record. The inmate patient received timely, appropriate and professional care. The onset and advance of the patient's condition were unfortunately rapid and aggressive, just as they are often so among other similarly stricken patients. Allegations to the contrary are misleading and untruthful."
Cody Huggins struggles with his father's death. He thought his dad would be released from prison for the last time and they could rebuild their relationship and start a new one with Cody's young daughter.
Over the last two quarters, Corizon has been sanctioned by the state for a total of $71,000 based on its performance. An ADC spokesman emailed us this statement:
"The MGAR reports are valuable tools to document compliance with identified performance measures. Corrective action plans are implemented to hold Corizon accountable for those measures. ADC has imposed financial sanctions on Corizon as part of the company's contract with the state.
"As with any such contract, Corizon's agreement is subject to the state Procurement Code as well as adherence to the Department of Corrections Department Order 302, Contracts and Procurement, to ensure transparent, fair and equitable practices and has the approval of the Attorney General's Office and State Procurement Officer."
Meanwhile, the class-action lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Arizona, ACLU National Prison Project, and the Prison Law Office is scheduled to go to trial this October in Phoenix. It accuses the Department of Corrections of providing inadequate medical care, mental healthcare and dental care that has led to deaths.
Defending against the suit is private law firm Struck, Wieneke & Love PLC of Chandler. So far, billing records reveal taxpayers have paid this firm approximately $3.4 million to defend the Arizona Department of Corrections against the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, the Prison Law Office has confirmed via email that settlement talks are underway to avoid a trial, issuing the following statement:
"The AG's office filed a request seeking a settlement conference, and after preliminary discussions with the AG's office we agreed to that request. A court-supervised settlement conference is scheduled for August 5."