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Times-Union: State, Jail Health Care Providers Settle for $200,000

By James Odato, September 24

A corporate health care provider used by three Capital Region county jails entered into an agreement with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that requires it to pay $200,000 in restitution and penalties and submit to monitoring in 13 upstate counties.

According to terms obtained by the Times Union, the settlement between the attorney general and Correctional Medical Care resolves claims of dangerous practices as well as unsatisfactory and unqualified staffing that arose after six deaths of inmates in CMC’s care at five county lockups from 2009 to 2011. A probe found serious deficiencies that included unlicensed and inexperienced staff, understaffing, lack of medical oversight and failure to adhere to medical and administrative protocols.

Sheriffs in Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer and 10 other counties paying CMC a combined $32 million a year are scheduled to be briefed Thursday about the resolution, according to two of the law enforcement leaders. The agreement, reached Monday, will require CMC to set up a separate company to provide medical care.

The company was criticized for shifting workload from doctors to less-qualified staffers — including a nurse with a felony conviction — and for employing people without the required licenses. The resolution requires its operations to be overseen for three years by an independent monitor that will be paid up to $200,000 a year by CMC. It will also have to submit to annual audits, and must pay Tioga County $100,000 and the state $100,000.

The deal ends a probe by the attorney general that was requested by the state Education Department and the state Medical Review Board. Private lawsuits have been lodged against CMC in connection with some of the jail deaths. Schneiderman said the settlement does not protect the company from new public claims for restitution.

“Tax dollars meant to cover medical care of our county prisoners must not be wasted — and substandard care and mismanagement are not an option,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “Shortchanging medical services provided to jail populations can lead to direct harm to individuals and misses a public health opportunity to provide care to individuals who often have undiagnosed, untreated medical needs. We will bring to justice contractors who line their pockets while failing to uphold their obligations to the people of New York.”

The company is considered a good contractor by Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple and Schenectady County Sheriff Dominic Dagostino, according to interviews.

It was, however, in charge of prison health care in Monroe County’s jail when deaths occurred in 2009 and 2010. That county has already received restitution of $340,000 as a result of CMC cutting the hours of top health professionals, particularly physicians and nurses, in violation of the terms of its contract.

An inmate under CMC’s care also died in 2011 in Tioga County. And an Onondaga County inmate suffered life-threatening infections and required 44 days of hospitalization due to CMC’s inadequate dental treatment.

State Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried called the settlement “an important victory that matters not only to jail inmates, but to all New Yorkers.” He has called outfits like CMC fronts for professional medical companies that are supposed to be controlled by doctors.

CMC is a for-profit enterprise owned by Maria Carpio and run by Carpio’s spouse, Emre Umar. Neither are licensed medical professionals, Schneiderman said. The pair are now required to set up a separate professional medical corporation to provide care in New York.

Soffiyah Elijah, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, said the state had to hold CMC accountable for “improper care” of incarcerated people, who tend to have extensive medical needs.

Apple said CMC has done a good job working in the Albany County prison running the infirmary, and providing all sorts of medical treatments and screenings to the 885 prisoners.

“I don’t have any problem with them,” he said. “We’ve never really had an issue with them.”

The county contracted in 2012 with CMC in a deal that expires after 2015 and pays $3.7 million a year. Apple said the company is providing 10 extra doctor hours a week at no cost.

Apple said he recognizes that CMC has a tough time getting top-notch help and replacing people when they leave.

Dagostino said the Schenectady County prison, with 325 inmates, is served well by CMC, which has been in place for more than five years. “We’re actually quite pleased with them,” he said. “They’re very responsive to our needs.”

The company’s lawyer did not return a call or email for comment.