Arizona Health Care Worker Falsified Records Of Incarcerated Patient Who Died

By Jimmy Jenkins
Published: Thursday, December 5, 2019 - 4:18pm
Updated: Friday, December 20, 2019 - 9:00am

Advocacy letters filed by the ACLU in federal court on behalf of incarcerated people in Arizona accuse health care workers in state prisons of falsifying medical records and endangering the lives of their patients.

ACLU National Prison Project Director David Fathi says they first noticed irregularities in the records kept by a mental health aide at the Eyman prison in Florence while they were reviewing the case of an inmate who recently died.

“People who are held in high security units are required to receive health and welfare rounds,” Fathi said. “These are basically checks on the patient to make sure they are still alive, they’re OK, they’re not in any immediate distress and don’t have any mental health or medical needs.”

When reviewing the history of welfare checks on the deceased inmate, Fathi discovered a mental health aide, employed by the state’s private contractor, Centurion, recorded performing a welfare check on the patient “at a time when the patient wasn’t there. The patient was at an outside hospital. So, these entries were obviously falsified.”

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In a letter to attorneys representing the Arizona Department of Corrections, Fathi notes the mental health aide logged two separate occasions, claiming to speak with the inmate, while the inmate was not in the prison.

Sergio Almanza
Arizona Department of Corrections
Sergio Almanza

“By contrast,” Fathi writes, “a different Mental Health Aide truthfully noted that Mr. was not in his cell on November 7.”

Fathi would not disclose the name of the inmate, but records provided by the Department of Corrections for the death of Sergio Almanza, 34, match the conditions of the deceased inmate described in the advocacy letter.

The ACLU is calling on the mental health aide to be disciplined and investigated and for a six-month review of the Centurion employee’s records “to determine if he engaged in additional falsifications.”

Fathi said they found other Centurion health care employees working at another facility were copying and pasting identical notes about patients, leading them to doubt their credibility as well.

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“The whole point is that the health care staff member is supposed to make an assessment of this patient, on this date — how the patient is doing, what the patient is saying — and record that in the record,” Fathi said. “If the staff person is simply cutting and pasting the same text for a number of different patients, then he’s obviously not making that individualized determination and documentation that we expect from health care professionals.”

This is not the first time a health care worker has falsified documents in Arizona prisons. Jose Vallejo, who worked for the former private health care provider, Corizon Health, admitted he was forced to sign off on reports he had no knowledge of. Other former Corizon employees have testified in court that employees cancel and back date provider visits to avoid fines and evade the state oversight process.

“It’s really impossible to overstate how serious this is,” Fathi said. “The medical record is the foundation of the provision of health care. And if the record is falsified, that could result in serious injury or even death to the patient.”

Fathi said the medical record is also the basis for assessing the Corrections Department’s compliance with the requirements of the Parsons v. Ryan settlement.

“So if the records are falsified,” Fathi said, “we really can’t have any confidence in ADC’s self reported findings.”

According to a Centurion spokesperson, "In accordance with the request made in the ACLU's letter, Centurion has performed a records audit, and we believe this to be an isolated incident. Centurion continuously updates its policies and procedures to ensure proper oversight of our employees and providers. Since receiving this letter, we have implemented an additional step in our medical records process in order to identify any discrepancies."

The spokesman said the employee accused of falsifying records in the ACLU letter "has not been a Centurion employee since October 23, 2019."

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