Concerns taxpayer money may be needed for lawsuits over health care allegations in jails

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There are new concerns over millions of dollars in taxpayer money that local governments may need to use unexpectedly. 

An Albuquerque attorney says local governments could soon have to pay out for lawsuits that they didn’t think they would be on the hook for. 

The problems revolve around a private company hired to provide health care inside the two largest jails in New Mexico – the Metropolitan Detention Center in Bernalillo County and the Doña Ana County Detention Center. 

Some know the company as “Corizon Health.” Right now, the company with the contract is called “YesCare.” Attorney Matt Coyte said the company is splitting assets, moving resources around and changing names, but it’s the same corporation. 

The fear is if it can’t pay compensation on lawsuits it may lose, the counties would have to pay up – which means taxpayer money. 

Coyte said he got notice Wednesday Corizon Health filed for bankruptcy. 

“You don’t expect them to suddenly change their name and declare bankruptcy,” he said. 

Coyte said a company like this would change its name to try to recover from bad publicity, and he believes the only reason it would file for bankruptcy is because it keeps losing lawsuits. 

Under various names, the for-profit provider has faced many lawsuits nationwide alleging inadequate medical care. 

In one of them, Coyte is representing the family of Hector Garcia, claiming the company’s workers didn’t do enough to help him inside the Doña Ana County jail in 2019. 

Video shows Garcia collapsing. The lawsuit alleges workers delayed care and avoided an expensive ambulance ride. 

Garcia died after six days at the jail. He was there because he had failed to pay less than $300 in fines. 

“It’s important that we hold them accountable,” Coyte said.

Bankruptcy means a delay. It puts all lawsuits on hold. Coyte said attorneys all over the country won’t stop until their clients get paid, and if the bankrupt company can’t pay, the local governments will have to. 

“That affects taxpayers. It’s not just the people in jail who get the poor care that are affected. We’re going to collect, eventually, from the taxpayer if this corporation disappears. That’s why it’s important to us all,” he said. 

At Bernalillo County’s MDC, three inmates have died in the first month-and-a-half of this year, and an ongoing class-action lawsuit claims “systemic inadequacy in medical care.” 

Coyte said these issues show larger problems about private companies in jails all across New Mexico and the lawsuits that follow. 

“The families of their loved ones will naturally be concerned as to what happens to their lawsuit, what happens to justice,” he said. 

A spokesperson for YesCare told KOB 4 that it won’t comment on the bankruptcy filing because Corizon Health is a separate entity, adding that YesCare remains dedicated to the care of patients. 

A Bernalillo County spokesperson did not comment on the company filing for bankruptcy. 

The county and YesCare are set to cut ties in July, and on Wednesday the county spokesperson told KOB 4 it is planning on announcing a new health care provider soon. 

On Wednesday, an MDC spokesperson said the jail has hit the first staffing goal set in a court order, as it’s now up to 54% staffing for corrections officers.