SANTA FE – The former behavioral health chief of the state Corrections Department has filed a whistleblower lawsuit saying the department fired her in retaliation for raising concerns about the medical services company that was providing care to inmates.
Bianca McDermott was placed on administrative leave by Corrections in May 2015 and was terminated the following November. In a civil suit filed in state District Court last week, McDermott claims that she was fired for “various whistleblower activities” related to Corrections’ contract with Corizon, a medical services provider.
She’s asking a judge to order Corrections to reinstate her to her old position and to pay her for wages lost since her termination.
In 2009, McDermott said she began raising concerns over Corizon’s contract with her supervisors. “Dr. McDermott was personally aware that Corizon was not providing all mental health care required under the contract, which meant that some portion of the ($200 million) NMCD paid to Corizon had not been earned,” the lawsuit says.
She filed a “qui tam” action, which allows a private person to sue for some of the recovery a state agency might receive, and made several public records requests. The state Attorney General investigated the matter, according to the lawsuit.
McDermott claims Corrections retaliated against her after that and placed her on leave for six months before firing her. She said she was accused of a discriminatory hiring decision, violating medical privacy laws and of being insubordinate. Corrections did not conduct an investigation into her misconduct in a timely fashion and did not follow protocol, she claims.
McDermott appealed her termination to the State Personnel Office, which held a hearing in August, but she says SPO still has not made a decision.
An audit released by state Auditor Tim Keller in late February says Corizon still owes the department $572,514 in “credits” that he said the state shouldn’t expect to be paid back. The audit also said there was a conflict of interest in having Corizon’s physicians help with Corrections’ evaluation of the company’s medical services, a conflict the audit says continued with the department’s new medical contractor, Centurion.