New Mexico Corrections Department Unfit to Handle COVID-19 Crisis

Question: Is New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD) fit to handle COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in its facilities?

Answer: As with any question dealing with the competence of NMCD or its contractors, this was purely hypothetical. Of course, they are not. NMCD cannot handle basic medical care under the best of circumstances.

As COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic spreads throughout the globe and the United States, New Mexico Corrections Department in its wisdom decided to take no precautions until the first cases were reported in New Mexico. As every reasonably competent medical professional has known for months, once Coronavirus has been detected within the population, it is far too late to take appropriate precautionary measures. At that point, the only goal is to slow the spread and minimize the number of deaths. Unfortunately, NMCD and its medical provider are not fit to accomplish either of these seemingly modest goals.

A quote from The Who, ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again” seems particularly apropos here:

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss…
Won’t Get Fooled Again

New Mexico Repeatedly Fooled by NMCD and its Medical Contractors

We have written much on the incompetence and cruelty of NMCD and its medical contractors. Not only have we written about it, our firm Collins & Collins, P.C. has filed numerous lawsuits related to the subject.

Interestingly, one of the primary topics of our articles, our lawsuits and our concern for the safety of not just our inmate clients but all inmates in the care of NMCD has been osteomyelitis and sepsis which I have characterized as an epidemic in the past. The rate of osteomyelitis and sepsis within NMCD facilities is exponentially higher than in the general population. This is the case despite the fact that NMCD medical contractors are paid millions of dollars each month for on-premises medical care of inmates.

Osteomyelitis is a bone infection resulting from untreated infections that can and have developed from simple scratches and pimples. Our lawsuits thus far have centered around spinal osteomyelitis and sepsis. It is easily preventable with basic medical care. In short, NMCD and its medical provider(s) allow easily preventable, very serious, sometimes fatal epidemics to thrive even when there is not a crisis. There is little reason to believe they can handle the Coronavirus crisis.

Yet, NMCD continues to not only look the other way at the grossly negligent and inhumane medical care that prisoners receive in its facilities, it is our contention in our many lawsuits that they actively conspire with the medical providers in the delivery of said grossly negligent and inhumane medical care.

This gets to the question posed above of whether NMCD is fit to slow the spread of COVID-19 and minimize the death toll to prisoners.

NMCD– Too Little Too Late

As stated above, NMCD and its current medical provider took no action until the first cases were detected in New Mexico. As we are all hearing, that is far to late to do any good. So, what has NMCD done so far? Very little it seems even now.

An article in New Mexico In Depth illustrates the minimal precautions taken even as of yesterday. The response has been limited to restrictions on visitors. There has been no testing still of any inmates, guards or other staff. Simply put, NMCD has no idea what’s going on within its walls. It remains blind to what may very well be a ticking bomb both inside its facilities and the communities in which they reside and its staff and visitors reside.

It is NMCD’s habit of burying its head in the sand. However, this time its deliberate ignorance is endangering the lives of prisoners, prison staff, guards and everyone they come into contact with once leaving the facilities.

Where was the NMCD Medical Contractor During This Slow-Moving Disaster

So, where has the medical contractor been in all this? This would seem to be a relevant and critical question for the Governor to be asking given the contract entered in November 2019 that calls for payment to said contractor of $58 to $70 million dollars per year for the term of the contract. It is even more critical for the Governor to start asking questions given the fact that this same medical provider lost its contract with NMCD in the past. One might say that this was very forgiving of NMCD to allow them back in. Others might take the equally legitimate position that it was irresponsible and dangerous to allow them back in.

Can the taxpayers expect even nominal competence from the NMCD medical contractor given the very expensive contract? Apparently not since even a nominally competent medical provider would have seen this coming given the nature of prisons, prisoners infections in prisons and the already existent Osteomyelitis, sepsis and MRSA epidemics in its facilities.

So, then the question becomes was the medical contractor simply incompetent or deliberately indifferent to the risks to NMCD prisoners, staff, visitors, and the communities to which they return? That really is the only question that remains to be answered from a legal perspective. From a moral perspective, or even just the perspective of a taxpayer, the question is why NMCD and the State of New Mexico continue to ignore the consequences of poor medical care in its prisons.