In reporting on inmate health care within New Mexico’s state prison system, The Santa Fe New Mexican fails to give important perspective that would have provided readers a more balanced view of medical care behind the walls.

Though we were hampered by our inability to discuss specific allegations due to federal and state patient privacy laws, we strove to be responsive to the questions put to us by New Mexican reporters. We were surprised to see the amount of that information omitted from the coverage, and the information presented for which we were not provided the opportunity to respond.

Wednesday’s editorial pushes the boundaries of defamation by repeating as fact, information presented in news articles as allegations without corroborating evidence.

Every day, Corizon Health’s 494 New Mexico employees work hard to provide the best health care possible to one of society’s most vulnerable populations, in an extremely challenging environment. New Mexico taxpayers, who may not themselves have access to health care, rely on our providers to follow established clinical guidelines and accepted standards of care. Our providers are offering appropriate treatment to patients who suffer on average from higher rates of chronic disease, substance abuse, mental health conditions and lack of preventive care at rates much higher than the general public. All this, while striving to keep ever-rising health care costs from overwhelming the state corrections budget.

Yet — relying on a few anecdotal accounts, information from a handful of inmates and former inmates currently pursuing high-dollar claims, the lawyers representing those plaintiffs, and the opinions of activists — The New Mexican has painted a distorted portrait that belies the quality care provided within New Mexico prisons.

For every one allegation of poor care, there are thousands of examples of patients who have received lifesaving care, life-prolonging diagnoses and treatment, improvements in their chronic conditions and compassionate hospice care. Consider that in 2015 alone, our nurses, physicians and midlevel providers had over 325,000 scheduled clinic visits, 55,000 sick call visits and more than 100,000 chronic care clinic visits inside New Mexico’s prisons, and more than 2,000 off-site visits for specialty care, diagnostic studies and surgery. Comprehensive healthcare services provided on-site to inmates also includes services such as dental, optometry, physical therapy, dialysis, and much, much more.

The foundations of our clinical protocols are based on nationally recognized standards of care. One of the most common misperceptions about our company — and indeed our industry — is that we somehow benefit from providing lower-quality care. To the contrary, what makes good medical sense and good business sense is excellent and proactive preventive care — intervening early to treat conditions before they become serious and more costly to treat. We believe the state of New Mexico is being well served by Corizon, and we are committed to continuing to improve care and services.

If our employees have concerns with any aspect of the care provided, Corizon maintains a robust compliance system that includes an anonymous toll-free number for employees to report to a third-party investigator any concerns they have with any aspect of their job, including the ability to provide care. The responsibility for reporting is reiterated in mandatory annual ethics training that all employees receive, and in reminders posted at our worksites and on our internal website.

The articles further mislead readers by apparently making an apples-to-oranges comparison of historic and current litigation rates and citing the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996, which makes it more difficult for inmates to file federal lawsuits, as evidence for the merit of the cases filed by inmates. Readers should note that the bulk of the cases discussed in the articles were filed in state court and are unaffected by federal reforms.

Furthermore, the stories attach great significance to the confidential nature of settlements. The existence of a settlement should not be assumed to be an admission of wrongdoing. Regardless of the strength of a healthcare provider’s case, medical malpractice suits are expensive to defend, distracting to staff, and jury decisions are notoriously unpredictable. The decision to settle a case often presents the least expense and risk and frequently is required by the liability insurance provider. Confidential settlements require the agreement of both parties and are the second-most common form in which all civil lawsuits are resolved; the most common being dismissal by the court.

The New Mexican also makes the outrageous accusation that Corizon was complicit in protecting a doctor accused of sexual abuse. What goes unreported is that state police initially investigated and found no evidence to support an allegation made against the doctor. Correctional Medical Services – the health care provider at the time — suspended him from seeing patients the same day the charges that reopened the investigation were made.

Inmates are the only Americans with a constitutional right to health care. With rising costs, an aging population and higher rates of chronic disease than the general public, inmate healthcare is a challenging and expensive obligation to meet. The state of New Mexico is helping control those unpredictable costs via the fixed-cost predictability of a private provider with unparalleled experience in serving this unique patient population. I am extremely proud of the work that our clinicians do every day and while often underappreciated, I stand proudly beside each and every one.

Karey Witty is chief executive officer of Corizon Health.

Editor’s note: The New Mexican stands by the reporting in its Suspect Care special report and can find no substantive responses from Corizon Health that were omitted from the stories. Corizon also asserts that the bulk of the cases referred to in the story were filed in state court and were thus unaffected by the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996, which makes it more difficult for inmates to file federal lawsuits. This is incorrect in two ways. About half the lawsuits were filed or moved to federal court and about half in state court. And, as stated in the special report, New Mexico law 33-2-1, like the federal litigation reform act, also makes it more difficult for prisoners to file claims, requiring them to exhaust administrative remedies before they can file a lawsuit in state court.

— Ray Rivera.

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