Prison concerns deserve further attention
Northumberland County Prison Board members said they were satisfied with PrimeCare Medical Inc.'s report addressing concerns with its service at the prison, including accusations that inmates are not being treated in a timely manner, with week-long waits for prescription refills, and that some medical records are known to be falsified.
We trust that whatever information Prime-Care presented during a 75-minute executive session that was part of the prison board's meeting Wednesday was indeed convincing in that all seven members of the board seemed unanimous in their satisfaction.
But as would be the case with any investigation, relying on the accused - even a long-standing corporation that serves a wide clientele across Pennsylvania - to clarify and justify the accusations seems a bit short-sighted. That applies even if the accusations are suspect by nature because they're coming from prison inmates and presumed disgruntled ex-PrimeCare employees.
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And, there's more to the story when it involves PrimeCare, simply because of its history and the fact that there are current accusations from elsewhere in Pennsylvania that mirror those in Northumberland County.
In 2006, The Morning Call of Allentown published an extensive investigative article entitled "Is Quality of Prison Health Care in Jeopardy?" that included details of a number of lawsuits involving PrimeCare, including 16 in Northampton County alone. In 2004, Lackawanna County replaced PrimeCare as its prison medical provider after a county grand jury characterized medical care there as deficient and determined the company failed to adequately treat inmates for serious medical conditions and failed to report injuries that might have been caused by physical abuse, The Morning Call reported.
While now 16 years past, in 1997, president and corporate medical director of PrimeCare, Carl A. Hoffman Jr. - present Wednesday in Sunbury - was issued a formal reprimand by the Pennsylvania Board of Osteopathic Medicine and was ordered to pay a $500 fine for altering medical records and making "misleading, deceptive, untrue or fraudulent entries" after an inmate died at Camp Hill state prison. The conduct of Hoffman was "subject to disciplinary action, though perhaps minor in contrast to the charges brought, is nevertheless serious because it impugns his integrity and thus the integrity of the entire medical profession," according to court documents from that case.
And just recently, a Somerset County commissioner and a former PrimeCare employee who worked in that county's prison have spoken to accusations similar to those that have surfaced here.
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While the prison board moves on, "satisfied," the Lewisburg Prison Project, a nonprofit inmate advocacy group, seems to be on a better track. It has sent letters to the state Department of Health and Department of Corrections requesting an independent agency conduct an investigation to determine if any of the allegations leveled against PrimeCare are true.
In the meantime, perhaps county officials could also at least listen to the inmates and former employees who have brought their concerns to light, just as they did to an entourage of PrimeCare officials.