CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - Another civil lawsuit against the contractor hired to handle all the healthcare needs of inmates at the Chatham County Jail has been filed in Savannah.
This time it involves a non-violent inmate who claims negligence on the part of Corizon Health nurses at the jail, leaving him with permanent injuries.
That inmate says Corizon withheld medication over a period of months that may have saved the company a few hundred dollars, but cost him his eyesight.
Eddie Robinson is a truck driver by trade. Well, he was until he lost sight in his right eye last year. In January, he was brought to the Chatham County Jail on charges of violating his probation for a non-violent crime.
With him came a trucker's medical examination showing that Robinson had 20/20 vision. He only maintained that vision with the help of prednisolone, an eye drop he got a prescription for from Corizon as soon as he arrived at the jail. That's when Robinson's problems began.
"Unfortunately in the first 25 days that he was in the jail, he should have received 100 administrations of his eye drops, four times a day. He got six," says Robinson's attorney, Will Claiborne. "By the time the month of January was over, he was effectively blind in his eye."
Jail records in fact show, the administration rate for Robinson. For the entire month of January, he was prescribed drops four times a day, every day. The record shows he got those 4 drops, just six times.
"I've got a record that says I have to have it four times a day and they said they don't care what the outside doctor says. It's what their boss says," says Robinson.
I also got a hold of an inmate request form Robinson filled out in May, once the sight was gone and the pain had become too much to bare. In it, Robinson complains about not getting his medication and says, "Try the cornea surgery or remove the eye to relieve the burning and the pain. PLEASE."
"The whole time, like I was telling them, I was having headaches. It was like someone was hitting me with a sledgehammer constantly. Because it was that, I had migraines. And they started giving me something for migraines."
"In this country if you get arrested for a crime we don't punish you by cutting off your hand," says Claiborne. "We don't punish you by putting out your eye. We provide constitutionally sufficient healthcare so that individuals don't get further harmed while they're in jail."
Prednisolone is cheap, a few dollars a month. But where Robinson and his attorney believe Corizon really saved money came once the staff finally allowed Robinson to get an outside opinion on his medical issue.
The suit claims doctors at The Georgia Eye Institute determined Robinson needed a cornea transplant, quote, "as soon as possible." He says Corizon saw that as a non-emergency and schedule that transplant surgery several months out, after Robinson was out of jail, and that he says saved the company perhaps tens of thousands of dollars.
"Every penny that they save is a penny that they pocket," insists Claiborne. "And if they can save pennies on eye drops or dimes on pills, unfortunately that appears to be what they do and they don't seem to be concerned about the consequences to real people."
While Corizon Health won't comment on a pending lawsuits, the company's director of External Relations told me:
"It is important to emphasize that a lawsuit is not necessarily indicative of quality of care or any wrongdoing. By their very nature, lawsuits are one-sided documents but we unfortunately are limited by patient privacy laws and the existence of this litigation from providing information that would give you and your viewers important facts about this case. We intend to vigorously defend our care in responding to this legal action."
Thursday, Robinson has had his cornea transplant. While it has relieved the burning and pain of his medical condition, he says it does not relieve the financial stress he now faces having lost his ability to drive a truck for a living.
"Those people in Chatham County that's got family in jail need to constantly check on them as far as their medication," Robinson warns. "Because they're not giving it the way they're supposed to and they really don't give a dern about it."
It helps to know how the contract works when the county hires a company to handle the healthcare for inmates at the jail. In this case, the county pays Corizon $5 million a year. Corizon in turn, pays for all medical care, medicine, surgeries and dental care for those who come to the jail. Whatever Corizon doesn't spend by the end of the year, it gets to keep.
On the surface, it may seem like a system that invites problems like Eddie Robinson's. Corizon might argue it also invites undue criticism that it's putting profits above patients when it insists it is providing quality care to these inmates every day.