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Psychologist claims N.M. Corrections retaliated

April 5, 2017 GMT

A psychologist says in a lawsuit filed in state District Court that the New Mexico Corrections Department fired her in retaliation for raising concerns about the department’s medical services provider.

Bianca McDermott, the Corrections Department’s bureau chief for behavioral health care from 2003 -15, says she brought concerns to supervisors about the agency’s contract with Corizon Health.

The Tennessee company, now known as Corizon Correctional Healthcare, faced more than 150 lawsuits during its nine years of providing medical care to prisoners across the state, according to an investigation by The New Mexican published in April 2016.

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“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 two hundred million dollars NMCD paid to Corizon had not been earned,” the lawsuit says.

The Corrections Department ended its relationship with Corizon after awarding the medical services contract to another private firm, Centurion LLC, last May.

Jim Brewster, general counsel for the Corrections Department, did not immediately respond to a request Tuesday for comment on McDermott’s lawsuit, which was filed last week.

The State Personnel Office held hearings in August on McDermott’s appeal of her termination but hasn’t made a determination, the lawsuit says.

McDermott says she also filed a whistleblower complaint that triggered a state attorney general investigation, but it resulted in no charges.

The Corrections Department placed McDermott on administrative leave in May 2015 and dismissed her in November 2015, the lawsuit says. The agency had accused her of insubordination, hiring discrimination and violating a federal privacy law that protects medical records, according to the lawsuit.

But McDermott says the agency’s investigations into her alleged wrongdoing were flawed and untimely and that the agency terminated her in retaliation for “various whistle-blowing activities.”

The lawsuit requests a judgment against the Corrections Department that it willfully violated the state whistleblower-protection law. McDermott is also seeking reinstatement to her jobs, wages lost since November 2015 and other compensation.

Contact Justin Horwath at 505-986-3017 or jhorwath@sfnewmexican.com.