A New Mexico inmate says both the current and former health care providers for state prisons have neglected an injury he received, and he claims their mistreatment left him with severe pain and a permanent disability.
Timothy Harlan, serving time in the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility in Grants for a second-degree murder conviction and other crimes, alleges in a lawsuit that a full year passed between the time when he slipped, fell and hurt his right wrist while leaving a shower and when a doctor wrote an order for “an urgent request for surgery.” The suit was filed last week in the state District Court in Santa Fe.
The lawsuit is the latest in a long series of court complaints by prison inmates about medical care provided by companies contracted by the New Mexico Department of Corrections.
Harlan’s complaint says he was evaluated on multiple occasions by health care workers employed by Corizon Health, the state’s former prison care provider, and that “no meaningful treatment or diagnostic testing was provided or ordered” at any of these checkups. Meanwhile, he says, he remained in pain and that swelling in his wrist was worsening.
According to the suit, Harlan received an MRI scan nine months after the injury occurred. It revealed “serious injuries to his wrist including multiple fractures and osteonecrosis,” a disease caused by reduced blood flow to bones in the joints, which can cause the bone to break down.
Harlan had surgery in January 2016 at The University of New Mexico Hand Clinic, 13 months after he said he injured his wrist.
A physician there, according to the suit, said it was “very important” that Harlan receive therapy to restore range of motion for his wrist and fingers. Months later, in September 2016, the medical director of the state’s new medical care provider, Centurion Correctional Healthcare of New Mexico, denied the physical therapy request. The company said “there is absolutely no way we can send the patient twice a week for 8 weeks to physical therapy,” the complaint says.
Harlan is seeking both compensatory and punitive damages.
In April 2016, The New Mexican published the results of a six-month investigation concerning the level of care provided to state inmates by Corizon, which was awarded a four-year, $156 million contract to handle prisoner medical services in 2012.
More than 150 lawsuits were filed by some 200 New Mexico inmates against Corizon, the nation’s largest for-profit provider of inmate medical services.
Despite inmates’ allegations that the care they received was often delayed and negligent, Corizon received scant oversight from the state, operating largely without regulation, The New Mexican’s investigation revealed. A Corizon spokeswoman defended the company’s performance at the time, saying the state prison system had received a “100 percent” rating from the American Correctional Association, a private accrediting organization that sets standards for prisons.
In late June 2016, the company revealed it had paid $4.5 million to settle suits brought by several dozen New Mexico inmates from 2007-16. It provided a spreadsheet with dollar amounts but omitted the names of prisoners and any other information about the nature of the claims or when the lawsuits were filed or settled.
Not long after the investigation was published, the state Corrections Department opted not to renew its Corizon contract and awarded a new contract to Centurion, which took over responsibility for providing care to the roughly 7,000 inmates in New Mexico state prisons.
A message for Centurion seeking comment on Harlan’s lawsuit was not returned.
S.U. Mahesh, a spokesman for the Corrections Department, said the department had not yet seen Harlan’s suit and could not comment on it. But the department would not comment on pending litigation regardless, he said.
Asked whether there had been complaints about Centurion since that company began providing care more than a year ago, Mahesh said, “I don’t know of many. I really can’t comment on a hypothetical question without knowing any facts.”
Contact Tripp Stelnicki at 505-428-7626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.