Changes to the city’s way of reporting missed medical visits for Rikers Island detainees make it appear the number of missed visits is much lower than in reality, the Legal Aid Society said Thursday.
The charge comes in Agnew v. City of New York, a class action lawsuit Legal Aid filed last year in state Supreme Court in the Bronx that alleged the Correction Department wasn’t bringing thousands of detainees a month to their medical visits.
Judge Elizabeth Taylor in May found the city in contempt of her order six months earlier to fix the problem. She gave the city another month to do a better job getting detainees to medical appointments or face fines of close to $200,000.
Legal Aid says the city has tried to mask continuing problems with missed medical appointments by fiddling with its numbers.
For many months, the city reported on the number of missed medical visits. But recently the city changed its reporting to show instead the number of people who missed visits.
The city reports that the number of people who miss visits is much lower than the number of missed visits.
For example, in April the Correction Department said detainees missed 11,789 medical appointments. In each of the previous six months, there were never fewer than 6,000 missed visits — and in one months, there were 12,000 missed visits, the data show.
But in the most recent period reported, from May 17 to June 12, the Correction Department reported just 186 detainees missed visits.
In a court filing June 16, Correction Department chief of staff Kathleen Thomson cited that 186 figure to argue the city was in compliance.
“The department has made substantial strides and is pleased to report that it is in substantial compliance with its obligation to provide access to medical care,” Thomson wrote.
Legal Aid’s lawyers say the city is manipulating the statistics to make it appear the situation is much better so Taylor doesn’t again find the department in contempt.
“If DOC [the Department of Correction] only counts people who miss appointments to report its progress, the data will fail to capture the total instances of nonproduction, which could be much higher,” the society’s lawyers said in court papers.
“The unexplained changes make it impossible to credit DOC’s assertion that it has made substantial strides.”
Legal Aid also alleges the city is playing games with data that tracks the number of times when no officer is around to bring the detainee to the clinic.
That number — known as ‘no escort’ — has somehow declined sharply without explanation, the society says.
Meanwhile, Legal Aid questioned Correction Department stats which show that in March, April and May, there were more than 6,000 missed visits in each month because detainees simply refused to go.
“It strains credulity that, given the well-documented difficulties people in custody experience trying to access to health care, they would refuse appointments at such a high rate,” the society said.