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Pa. company probed over N.Y. inmate deaths; 9 die in 3-year span

| Sunday, April 14, 2013, 6:39 p.m.

ALBANY, N.Y. — The state attorney general's office says it's investigating a company that has become New York's largest private contract provider of jail medical services.

The state Commission of Correction has issued critical reports about nine inmate deaths between 2009 and 2011 at county jails that contract with Correctional Medical Care Inc., the Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin reported.

The company, based in Blue Bell in Montgomery County, says it uses some of the most qualified and dedicated licensed medical personnel in New York state to provide inmate health services in a cost-effective manner.

“The reality is we do this work better than anyone else in our field because we focus first on delivering first-rate care to the incarcerated population,” CMC spokeswoman Jessica Bassett told the newspaper.

Nazif Chowdhury, another CMC official, said inmates are cared for just as any other medical patients would be, but the care can be complicated by untreated medical and mental health problems often brought to the facility.

Yet, reports by the state Commission of Correction's Medical Review Board have found some level of fault with CMC in the nine inmate deaths. In some cases, it has placed blame on correctional officers for mistakes.

The Medical Review Board has blamed CMC for failing to follow its own drug withdrawal and detoxification policies, for ignoring signs of mental illness, and for failing to treat some illnesses, the Press and Sun-Bulletin reported. The board recommended county-level inquiries to decide whether CMC is to continue to provide services at the Broome, Tioga and Dutchess county jails.

CMC has provide medical services at the Broome County jail since 2006 under contracts worth more than $18 million through the end of 2013. Sheriff David Harder told the newspaper he was satisfied with CMC's track record and noted few inmate complaints.

The state review board report said CMC failed to follow its own intoxication and withdrawal policy after Alvin Rios was booked into jail during his July 2011 arrest for criminal possession of a controlled substance. The doctor said he wasn't made aware of Rios' condition. The report said Rios was left in a “life-threatening status without appropriate medical attention” and died of a heart problem.

Spokespeople from the state attorney general's office and the education department, which oversees medical licensing, confirmed that CMC was the subject of an inquiry but declined to give further details.

County jails in 15 of New York's 62 counties use contracted medical providers, and 11 of those contracts are held by CMC.

The Medical Review Board found at least some level of fault with CMC in the following deaths:

• Latisha Mason, 28, died of undetermined causes associated with drugs at Schenectady County Jail on Feb. 9, 2011.

• Justin McCue, 26, hanged himself at the Dutchess County Jail on Sept. 23, 2010, after his mental health services were discontinued.

• Maria Viera, 53, died at Monroe County Jail on Sept. 2, 2010, from a heart inflammation; the review board said a CMC nurse failed to follow proper detoxification procedures.

• Thomas Siewert, 51, committed suicide in February 2011 at Dutchess County Jail; the state report said CMC failed to follow-up on his concern that he wasn't getting proper medication for depression.

• Richard Vandemark, 21, hanged himself the day after he was booked into the Ulster County Jail. His family received a settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit.

• Kevin Schmitt, 50, dove head-first off a balcony at Ulster County Jail in September 2009, a day after his arrest in a 10-hour armed standoff; the review board said the CMC social worker who booked him did an incompetent evaluation.

• Joaquin Rodriguez, 60, a diabetic, was critically ill with pneumonia for 36 hours without medical care before he was found dead in Monroe County Jail in July 2009.

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