Delaware AG investigating prison medical contractor

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DOVER, Del. (AP) — Delaware's attorney general is investigating the state's prison system medical contractor amid allegations that staffers were ordered to forge documents to falsely state that inmates were getting mental health treatment they never received.

Officials confirmed the investigation this week and urged anyone with information about the record-keeping practices of Connections Community Support Programs Inc. to contact the Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust.

The investigation is the latest sign of problems within Delaware's prison health system, which was the target of a federal investigation more than a decade ago.

"It's upsetting that so many years down the road, and we're still not apparently getting what we're paying for," a frustrated Gov. John Carney said Tuesday. "That's just unacceptable."

Connections CEO Cathy McKay did not respond to a message seeking comment.

The allegations involve at least a dozen female inmates who were enrolled in a substance-abuse program called Crest at Sussex Correctional Institution in southern Delaware.

Former Connections staffer Shannon Lasek claims she was ordered by Crest South managers to falsify documents late last year to indicate that inmates were getting individual counseling sessions and treatment plans.

"They weren't actually done, they were just signed," Lasek said Tuesday.

Lasek made her concerns known in a resignation letter in December, with copies to McKay and to Jim Elder, chief of the Bureau of Community Corrections. She said no one from the Department of Correction reached out to her until last week, shortly before the News Journal of Wilmington, which first reported the allegations, published a story.

State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, said he sent an email to DOC Commissioner Perry Phelps in late April after hearing rumors for weeks about problems with Connections. Pettyjohn said Phelps indicated to him that DOC officials had looked into the allegations and found nothing wrong.

"I'm not happy about that," Carney said of the DOC's apparently cursory review.

Asked whether he thought Phelps and DOC management were doing a good job, and whether he still had confidence in Phelps, the governor was noncommittal.

"We're going to have a long conversation about this particular problem," Carney said. "If the allegations that I've read about are accurate, we're going to get it fixed."

In response to an Associated Press query in February — two months after Lasek sent Elder a copy of her resignation letter — DOC spokeswoman Jayme Gravell denied that prison officials had been made aware of allegations against Crest facilitators.

"However, there are mechanisms in place that allow the DOC to confirm offender programming and treatment and we will review the records of any inmates who come forward stating they were held past their release date due to falsified documents," Gravell wrote in an email. She added that if wrongdoing were discovered, the DOC would refer the matter to the DOJ for investigation.

Marc Richman, chief of the Bureau of Correctional Healthcare Services, did not return a telephone message Tuesday.

Bill Northey, chief operating officer for Connections, said company policies prohibit any staff from fabricating any clinical documentation.

Northey also said Connections investigated Lasek's allegations of backdating documents after receiving her letter in December and found no evidence that documents were fabricated.

"Both Connections and DOC investigated the allegation at the time and it was not substantiated," he wrote in an email.

Lasek said she was told to begin falsifying documents last November, after several counselors quit over a period of months, leaving the Crest program severely short-staffed.

"It became obvious that all these charts were falling behind," she said.

After getting no reply from officials at DOC or Connections to her concerns, Lasek sent a letter late last month to Democratic and Republican leaders in the General Assembly and to the attorney general's office.

"I first hand witnessed clients go through this 90+ day program without a single counseling session or treatment plan," despite records falsely indicating otherwise, she wrote.

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Justice began investigating conditions at Delaware prisons after a preliminary inquiry prompted by inmate lawsuits and media reports alleging inadequate medical care. The investigation resulted in a memorandum of agreement under which Delaware agreed to take steps to improve health care services. The state was released from the agreement in late 2012, a few months after awarding Connections a contract for mental health and substance abuse services.

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