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Backlash

Wexford hit with discrimination lawsuit.

In the latest setback for Wexford Health Sources, a former employee has slapped the prison health care company with a civil lawsuit alleging racial discrimination.

The suit, filed Oct. 25 in US District Court in Albuquerque, alleges that former health services administrator Don Douglas was fired by Wexford last October because he is black. Moreover, the suit alleges that sick and injured inmates at Lea County Correctional Facility in Hobbs, where Douglas worked, received poor treatment and that the facility lacked critical medical staff.

Wexford, which administers health care in New Mexico’s prisons, has been the subject of a four-month SFR investigation [Cover story, Aug. 9: " Hard Cell?”]. As a result, the Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee held a hearing last month, and the Legislative Finance Committee is slated to audit Wexford and the New Mexico Corrections Department [Outtakes, Nov. 8: “Prison Audit Ahead”].

The allegations in Douglas' lawsuit echo many of the concerns from employees who have talked to SFR. Specifically, it charges that even though Douglas alerted a Wexford corporate administrator about medical and staffing problems, the company did not respond. Instead, according to the lawsuit, Douglas' job was audited and he was found negligent, despite no prior problems and a record of exemplary job evaluations. On Oct. 10, 2005, Douglas was fired and replaced by a white woman, the lawsuit says.

"Wexford did not provide critical health care in a timely manner, and I called attention to that," Douglas tells SFR. "Inmates have a civil right as incarcerated American citizens to be afforded adequate health care. But that service is not being provided, and Wexford is neglecting inmates."

Douglas began working at Wexford in July 2004, but also worked for its predecessor, Addus. Shortly after his firing, Douglas filed a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A June 5 letter from the EEOC's Albuquerque office says the agency found reasonable cause to believe Douglas "was terminated because of his race."

When queried by SFR, Wexford Vice President Elaine Gedman wrote in a Nov. 27 e-mail that Wexford is withholding comment until the forthcoming audit is complete and referred to 14 prior successful audits of Wexford. Corrections spokeswoman Tia Bland also would not comment on the lawsuit and noted that NMCD does not oversee Wexford personnel matters.

Says Deshonda Charles Tackett, Douglas’ lawyer: “This is an important case. Mr. Douglas should not have to suffer racial discrimination in an effort to provide inmates with proper health care.”

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