Michigan, PHS/Corizon Tortures Its Prisoners With Inadequate Medical Care

by Nathaniel K. Owusu

     In January 2009, the Michigan Department of Corrections contracted with Prison Health Services, Inc., now Corizon
 Prison Health Services, to provide healthcare to prisoners, replacing it three-year contract with Corrections Medical Services, (CMS) Inc.  Since then, prisoner healthcare has gotten much worse under contract with Prison Health Services Inc, (PHS), now PHS/Corizon, which replaced CMS in 2009.  Indeed, your editorial argued that without more Legislative oversight, the MDOC would "...perpetuate a standard of care that is inhumane and unconstitutional," and this is exactly what has occurred.  "Substandard care" as a cost-savings measure was the MDOC's motivation for contracting PHS/Corizon whose documented history of "criminally unconstitutional" prisoner healthcare was known to the MDOC when it signed on the dotted line.  (See, e.g., the included sampling of lawsuit settlements against PHS/Corizon in Vermont, "PLN Settles Public Records Suit Against PHS in Vermont...)

     The healthcare prisoners have been receiving since PHS/Corizon took over has forced us with serious medical condition to suffer inadequately treated sever pain, become disabled or simply die, as a matter of policy, and amounts to state-sanctioned torture as defined by the U.S. Supreme court in its seminal prisoner Eighth Amendment case, Estelle v Gamble, 439 US 97, 104-05 (1976):
needs of prisoners constitutes the 
                               "An inmate must rely on prison authorities to treat his medical needs;
                               if the authorities fail to do so, those needs will not be met.  In the worst
                               cases, such a failure may actually produce physical 'torture and 
                               lingering death,'...We therefore conclude that deliberate indifference to 
                               serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the 'unnecessary and wanton
                               infliction of pain'....proscribed by the Eighth Amendment."  (Emphasis
                               added.)

                               The Supreme Court reaffirmed this principle as recently as in Brown v Plata
                                (2011), 131 SCT. 1910, 1928 (2011):

                                "Prisoners retain the essence of human dignity inherent in all persons.  Respect
                                for that dignity animates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and 
                                unusual punishment...A prison that deprives prisoners basic sustenance,
                                including adequate medical care, is incompatible with the concept of human
                                dignity and has no place in civilized society."

      My treatment being typical of all chronic-care patients', I've suffered from spinal degenerative disease since , 2008, confirmed by MRIs and X-rays which revealed the presence of bulging and severely degenerated discs, bone spurs, cysts, and "moderate to marked" stenosis (nerve root compression causing numbness, radicular pain) in both my cervical and lumbosacral spine.  At times, I could barely walk (from sciatica) or sleep (I  had to ball -up in a fetal position), and my body burned/prickled with needle-like pain, including in my face and on my scalp.   As a result the OTC medications, e.g., tylenol and NSAIDs, were no longer effective, and I was prescribed the mild opioid (not opiate) analgesic, ultram baclofen for associated muscle spasms, continued with various NSAIDs.  I also had a recommendation for the medication, neurontin, for radicular (nerve) pain, and a neurology consult for possible surgery which was in the approval process.

     This medication regime was relatively effective for the 8-12 months I was on it until PHS took-over in 2009 and immediately discontinued it when they considered and rejected my treating physician's recommendation for neurontin.  Instead, PHS and then-promoted MDOC chief medical officer (CMO), Dr. Jeffrey S. Stieve, put me back on the same OTC medications Dr. Stieve had previously deemed were no longer effective.  I immediately relapsed into severe, debilitating pain.   The neurology consult, having been approved, was rescinded, and all my other treating physicians' recommendations were disregarded.  Instead of the neurontin, I was prescribed tegretol--an anti-seizure medications known to be highly toxic to the liver used by the MDOC/PHS to treat "nerve pain," 

     Since 2009, therefore, PHS/Corizon including CMO Steive, have adamantly refused, despite multiple grievances, to either 1) put me back on adequate pain medication, 2) reeveluate me for a neurosurgical consult, or 30 allow alternative treatments, until recently, as my condition steadily deteriorated:  My hands shake with uncontrollable tremors, PHS took my cane several months ago despite me suffering from sciatica, making walking or standing nearly impossible at times, and my hands/feet/limbs have begun "curling -in" and locking -up with paralysis from irreversible severe pain--complaints which PHS/Corizon simply ignores.  Several weeks ago, I was diagnosed with preventable liver damage (possible) from the tegretol, and most recently depakote (another liver-damaging, anti-convulsant-type medication), instead of the recommended neurontin.  I've also developed acid reflux disease from the excessive amounts of OTC medications which, as a matter of MDOC/PHS policy, I've been force to take for pain in lieu of stronger prescription medications which PHS/Corizon disallows (e.g., I was prescribed eight (8) tablets of tylenol / day to replace ultram).

     MDOC/PHS have systematically removed numerous commonly-prescribed medications from their formulary, forcing us to purchase them from the prisoner commissary.  With the state's complicity, PHS/Corizon has virtually usurped local providers' prescribing authority of formulary medications without prior approval from PHS/Corizon, rendering doctors impotent and unable to function as physicians.  The result of this policy is obvious:   Prisoners with emergent medical conditions are being forced to suffer their ailments, regardless of seriousness, until approval is obtained from Lansing in days or weeks, if at all.  PHS has also implemented a policy of not prescribing certain medications ostensibly because of the mere "potential for abuse," effectively denying us the most effective treatment options by putting saving money over prisoners' health.

     As further proof of the MDOC/PHS policy of deliberate indifference, I'd challenge you to FOIA the decreased number of allowed/rescinded specialty consultations since PHS/Corizon has taken-over, s well as the sheer number of medications PHS/Corizon has removed from its formulary since 2009.   I'd further suggest that you look at the decrease in the number of off-site emergency visits/hospitalizations, as well as the decrease in such basic services as MRIs and X-rays.  Basically, if we're not dying then and there, we're not receiving adequate care.  Period!

     As a result of all of the above, Michigan prisoners are being subjected to state-sanctioned medical torture.

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