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Corizon Health Whistleblower Ordered To Testify In Federal Court About Arizona Prison Conditions

More documents and testimony were released Friday from a woman who claims she quit Corizon Health to disclose poor health care conditions and wrongdoing in Arizona state prisons.

Angela Fischer is the second former health care worker in recent months to come forward as a whistleblower. In December, Dr. Jan Watson told her story to KJZZ, which subsequently triggered a special hearing in the Parsons v. Ryan prison health care settlement.

Fischer will have her day in court as well.

SPECIAL REPORT: On The Inside: The Chaos Of Arizona Prison Health Care

In a declaration filed Friday in federal court, plaintiff’s attorneys representing the 34,000 people in Arizona prisons shared more documents and testimony from Fischer, who says she quit Corizon Health to blow the whistle.

In a previous court filing, ACLU prison project director David Fathi told the court that Fischer had reached out with unsolicited information about conditions at the state prison in Phoenix.

According to the documents she provided, Fischer “conducted mental health assessments, and individual and group counseling” at the prison. She also provided several performance reviews from 2017 and 2018 showing high marks. The reviewer wrote she was “professional, ethical and follows all legal guidelines.” The filing includes an Employee of the Month certificate awarded to Fischer in January 2017.

Allegations Of Officers Sleeping On The Job

In emails sent in July, October and November of 2017, Fischer repeatedly warned her leadership at Corizon that she observed correctional officers sleeping.

“When I arrived on Quiet Ward, two officers were sleeping, and I don’t mean dozing … I mean sleeping,” she wrote.

Fischer asked if Corizon could work with the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) on “some sort of supervisory methodology that would prevent officers from sleeping.”

The allegations did not seem to surprise the facility health administrator at the Phoenix prison, who replied, “Just had a conversation about sleeping staff. Deja vu.”

Fischer also alleged there were not enough correctional officers to provide adequate safety.

“If something were to happen to one of us in the psych associate offices it would take a long time for back-up to get to us,” she wrote.

She also alleged in several instances that inmates were not being properly secured for their mental health evaluations.

“The inmate I saw today without restraints is here for stabbing someone he believed was a clone,” Fischer wrote. “He felt morally obliged to kill the clone to protect the ‘innocents,’ as such he presents a danger to people around him, including the counselors.”

Poor Communication Between ADC And Corizon

In another email from September 2017, Fischer complained of her patients being moved without her knowledge.

“How are these decisions getting made and communicated without any information from the treating clinicians?” she asked.

She continued in a separate exchange to express concern for the release condition of inmates who will need continuing mental health care.

In one instance, Fischer cited a Corizon policy regarding suicide watches that she did not believe was possible to achieve.

Not Enough Staff

Fischer also created an entire report describing the duties of the mental health staff at the prison, which she submitted to Corizon Health.

“I am not sure that all aspects of the job are being accounted for,” she wrote.

In another email to staff, Fischer told Corizon leadership they weren’t living up to their company mission.

“We purport to use clinical best practices and evidence based practices, neither of which are apparent given the fact that the staff is stretched so thin that they barely get to check in with their patients, let alone provide therapy.”

She expressed concern for inmates “sitting alone in their cells for 23 hours a day.” Fischer also said she believed some new arrivals were coming to the Phoenix facility “because they are bothersome at the last location, not for acute psychiatric distress.”

In a response to Fischer’s concerns, Corizon’s regional director of mental health, Lynn Calcote, acknowledged the staffing shortage.

“The sad circumstance is that we are faced with the choice of ‘who do we decide to help’ because we cannot give all of them what we wish we could,” Calcote wrote, adding that “resources are limited.”

Not Enough Beds

The emails indicate that many of the Corizon staff are concerned with their limited ability to treat seriously mentally ill patients. Fischer wrote of one patient transferring to general population (GP) despite the fact he believed he was having a conversation with JAY-Z about his musical career.

“He is actively psychotic and we are sending him to a GP yard because we don’t have room for him in mental health?” she asked. “It seems cruel to me. … Depriving a person who presents with this level of psychosis with a mental health placement, and noting a shortage of bed space and a waiting list, is beyond the pale.”

Court Date Set

The judge overseeing the Parsons v. Ryan prison health care settlement ordered an evidentiary hearing to be held on May 31 and June 1, where Fischer will testify in court to the allegations.

KJZZ has reached out to Fischer, ADC and Corizon Health for comment on this developing story.

Corizon Health responded Friday afternoon with the following statement:

“This is a one-sided account that — similar to allegations by a former doctor who worked in the prisons — will completely fall apart if ever subjected to cross examination and that has nothing to do with whether we are meeting compliance scores. The truth is that this was a disgruntled employee and we can easily demonstrate several falsehoods in the filing.

“Steadily, upon being awarded an emergency contract to provide services in Arizona, Corizon has greatly improved the quality of health care for its patients. Today we are in full compliance on 94 percent of the performance measures the state agreed to in its settlement agreement with the ACLU and others on the Parsons v. Ryan class action lawsuit that predates Corizon’s service in Arizona.

“Corizon Health looks forward to, once again, demonstrating the factual reality of a significantly improving healthcare system.”

Jimmy Jenkins is a senior field correspondent at KJZZ and a contributor to NPR’s Election 2020 and Criminal Justice station collaborations. His work has been featured on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Marketplace, Here and Now, The Takeaway and NPR Newscasts.Originally from Terre Haute, Indiana, Jenkins has a B.S. in criminology from Indiana State University and a master’s degree in journalism from Indiana University.Much of his reporting has focused on the criminal justice system. Jenkins has reported on Tasers, body cameras, use of force, jail privatization, prison health care and the criminal contempt trial of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.