The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 18, 2013

Health providers: Medications botched at Northumberland County Prison

By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item

— SUNBURY — Northumberland County Prison inmates’ medications were not dispensed as prescribed, and the jail medical service provider hired in the wake of a medical lawsuit falsified prisoners’ health records, former Prime Care workers allege.

County prison board members have been meeting behind closed doors for the past two weeks after allegations of improper dispensation of medicine to inmates over a significant period.

Two individuals, who were in a position to know, say employees for PrimeCare Medical Inc., Harrisburg, have been giving inmates the wrong medicine or no medicine when it is needed.

Ironically, PrimeCare was hired by Northumberland County in April 2010 following the settlement of a $1.5 million class-action lawsuit against the county, claiming conditions in the 134-year-old North Second Street jail were unsafe and inmates weren’t provided adequate medical care.

PrimeCare’s contract began at approximately $550,000 annually and will end at about $697,000 when it expires in March 2018.

Now two ex-employees who left PrimeCare within the past two months have approached Northumberland County commissioners, saying the medical practices they were asked to perform did not meet their personal and professional medical standards.

Specifically, the former PrimeCare employees said:

- Inmates were not treated in a timely manner;

- Medicines would run out and inmates would have to wait up to a week for refills;

- Medical records and charts included untrue statements to make the provider look more professional than it was; and

- Documented reports of inadequate treatment or misconduct by supervisors were ignored.

A 25-year veteran nurse said some of the medicines that were not being delivered were lithium (for psychiatric symptoms), neurontin (for seizures) and diabetic and heart medicines.

“When we would run out, I would ask to call the backup pharmacy,” the nurse said. “They wouldn’t always get those medicines there, so we would have to wait anywhere from a few days to a week. If I questioned it, I was told to shut my mouth or I would be escorted to the gate.”

A PrimeCare spokesman acknowledged an investigation is under way and that PrimeCare will not debate the allegations in the media.

“I am not getting into any details about an investigation,” Todd Haskins, vice president of operations, said Friday.

“Any time there is a complaint we take it seriously and it is not our policy to withhold medicines. If that were the case there would be corrective action issued.”

Meetings quickly called

County commissioner and prison board Chairman Steve Bridy confirmed prison officials met within 24 hours of being notified of allegations against PrimeCare, and said within 72 hours of that meeting PrimeCare officials were in Northumberland County for an executive session.

Bridy declined to comment on the results of that meeting. Commissioner Rick Shoch declined comment.

Commissioner Vinny Clausi said he would reserve comment.

“I’m so frustrated with this prison and I’d like to say a few things and I can’t,” Clausi said. “We have a major problem with this prison and I’m getting more and more aggravated every day, so stay tuned.”

The former nurse said he reported instances to his supervisor when he thought something was being done improperly.

“My supervisor was also very concerned, so we asked to speak with the regional manager,” he said. “I was fired, and a few weeks later my supervisor quit because she said she felt she couldn’t be part of what was going on anymore.”

That supervisor confirmed that she filed reports of the misconduct and gave them to her boss.

“And nothing got done to them that I am aware of,” she said. “I brought these issues to her attention and I was never instructed to do anything.”

The woman decided to pursue other work, saying she left PrimeCare because she “didn’t want to be a part of it any more.”

Regarding medications, an inmate had start and stop dates, she said.

After the stop date, medicine was still being delivered to inmates, according to the woman.

“Granted, the medicine would have probably been given to the inmate anyway from the doctor, but there is a process that needs to be followed first.”

According to the former nurse, two other employees have left since Jan. 1 because of questionable procedures.

PrimeCare was incorporated in Pennsylvania in 1986 as Pennsylvania Institutional Health Services Inc. to provide partial (without nursing) and comprehensive medical services to correctional facilities in the Northeast, according to its website.

In 1994, its name was changed to PrimeCare Medical Inc. That same year, two subsidiaries were created, PrimeCare Medical of New York Inc. and PrimeCare Medical of West Virginia Inc., its website states.

Founder Dr. Carl A. Hoffman Jr. is actively involved in the daily operations of the corporation, the website states.

According to the fired nurse, Hoffman visited Northumberland County Prison several times but rarely saw patients. The ex-employee did not know whether Hoffman ever heard or saw the complaints. The ex-nurse communicated with his supervisors.

“I was told to shut up and just do what I’m told,” he said. “I explained I felt it was not good for these individuals to not receive the proper medical care they deserve and I was told to mind my own business and not to worry about them because they are ‘just inmates.’”