Court asked to manage healthcare system in Arizona prisons

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Corrections officials lack the ability to improve staffing issues that have put prisoners with medical and mental health issues at risk, according to attorneys for inmates who ask a judge to take over health care operations in state prisons.

In briefs filed late last week, attorneys made what amounted to closing arguments in a lawsuit over the quality of health care for about 27,000 people incarcerated in Arizona public prisons. Testimony in the trial, which will be decided by U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver, ended in mid-November.

The lawsuit was called after a 2014 settlement resolving the case was thrown out last summer by Silver, who concluded the state had shown little interest in making many of the improvements promised under the lawsuit. agreement and that inadequate care for prisoners had resulted in avoidable suffering and death. .

Silver also said $2.5 million in contempt of court fines against the state failed to motivate authorities to comply with the settlement.

Prisoners’ attorneys said health care operations in Arizona prisons were understaffed and poorly supervised, routinely denied access to some necessary medications, failed to provide adequate pain management to patients with terminal cancer and others, and did not meet minimum mental health standards. care.

They call on the judge to take charge of health care operations, to appoint a manager to manage medical and mental health services there, to ensure that prisons have enough health workers and reduce the use of solitary cells.

“In short, there is an abundance of undisputed evidence and court rulings showing that the State of Arizona, through its Director of Corrections and subordinates, has shown minimal disregard. reckless for his constitutional obligations,” the prisoners’ lawyers wrote. “It spawned tragic consequences that should never have been tolerated let alone allowed to continue for almost a decade.”

The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Rehabilitation has denied allegations that he was providing inadequate care, delaying or outright denying care, and not giving needed medication.

In court documents, attorneys for the agency said Director of Corrections David Shinn, who was appointed to the position by Gov. Doug Ducey in October 2019, focused on resolving litigation issues. in health care. They also say that a company contracted to provide health care in Arizona prisons has invested money in recruiting and retaining employees and that hiring nurses remains a challenge in the future. inside and outside prisons.

Shinn had testified at trial that he believed it was a myth that a number of healthcare workers had to go to certain facilities.

In the face of staffing issues, corrections officials and the state’s prison health care contractor have “emphasized telehealth and telepsychiatry and, instead of forcing people to work at some places they have focused on hiring people who want to work and live there.

A court-appointed expert previously concluded that understaffing, insufficient funding and privatization of health services are significant barriers to improving health care in Arizona prisons.

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