Lawsuit claims Florida inmates are denied surgeries

Amado Parra
Amado Parra Florida Department of Corrections

Three inmates are suing the Florida Department of Corrections and medical contractor Corizon, alleging Corizon refused to provide medically necessary surgical procedures in an effort to keep costs down. The class-action lawsuit, which cites several other cases of alleged inadequate care, accuses Corizon of violating prisoners’ Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.

Corizon and a second prison system healthcare contractor, Wexford, have faced a flurry of litigation around the country, accusing them of cutting corners on care to save money, sometimes with fatal results.

This latest lawsuit focuses on hernia surgeries. It claims that Tracy Copeland, 48, was repeatedly denied a hernia operation despite two recommendations from a doctor for the procedure, and that Amado Parra, 60, and Archie Green, 43, were also denied surgical evaluation for severely painful hernias that limit their ability to move. All three have had symptoms of groin hernias since 2012 and 2013.

Copeland and Parra are serving time for second-degree murder. Green is imprisoned for a handful of charges, including burglary and grand theft with a firearm.

“What they’re trying to do is maximize their profits as a for-profit medical care provider,” said Randall C. Berg Jr., executive director of the Florida Justice Institute, which filed the suit on behalf of the prisoners. “The unfortunate thing about inmates is if they don’t get surgery by the medical provider, they can’t go elsewhere. There’s no other entity to turn to get the medical care they need.”

Martha Harbin, a spokeswoman for Corizon, said the company had not yet been served with the lawsuit and denied the company has a policy restricting surgeries for inmates.

“Corizon Health has no policies limiting or preventing surgery for the repair of hernias or any other medically necessary procedures,” she wrote in an email. “We are first and foremost healthcare providers. Our mission is to deliver safe, effective and efficient healthcare services using best practices and evidence-based medicine.”

“One of the most common misperceptions about our company is that we somehow benefit from providing lower-quality care,” she added. “To the contrary, what makes good business sense and good medical sense is excellent preventive care — intervening early to prevent and/or treat conditions before they become serious and cause disease-related complications.”

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring Corizon to provide surgery to inmates who need it, and requests punitive damages from the Brentwood, Tennessee.-based contractor. Corizon, which operates in 27 states, was awarded a five-year contract with the Florida Department of Corrections in 2013, despite already facing numerous lawsuits across the country for allegedly deficient care. Corizon manages medical care in 114 of the Department of Corrections’ 140 facilities, including prisons, annexes, work camps and other units.

Department of Corrections spokesman McKinley Lewis said the agency is reviewing the complaint “to determine the appropriate legal action.”

“The prescribed course of care varies from patient to patient and is based on the professional medical opinion of the attending healthcare provider,” he added.

The Department of Corrections announced in February that it is rebidding its healthcare contracts before the end of the year.