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The latest news from every corner of the state, including policy emerging from Missouri's capitol.

Nearly 1,000 Missouri Nurses Could Get Compensation In Lawsuit Over Unpaid Time

Photo Illustration-Carlos Moreno/Bethany Wood
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KCUR 89.3/Kansas News Service

Hundreds of Missouri nurses employed by Corizon Health Inc., the largest for-profit prison health care provider in the country, got a big boost after a judge agreed to certify their lawsuit over uncompensated time as a class action.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Stephen R. Bough creates a class of as many as 1,000 nurses or more who, if they prevail in the lawsuit, would be eligible for compensation for pre- and post-shift activities the company currently doesn’t compensate them for performing. The damages could amount to millions of dollars.

The nurses work at 21 Missouri jails and prisons spread throughout the state, including facilities in Kansas City, St. Louis, Jefferson City, Cameron and Fulton.

Corizon, a privately owned company, has held a contract with the Missouri Department of Corrections for the last 29 years to provide health care to Missouri inmates.

The company recently lost the contract to a competitor, Centurion Health, a subsidiary of Centene, a St. Louis-based managed care company. Centurion’s bid of $174 million a year means it is set to be paid more than $1.3 billion if the contract is renewed on an annual basis.

In the nurses’ lawsuit, Corizon didn’t dispute that it does not compensate nurses for the time they are required to spend performing security protocols before and after clocking in, including submitting to physical pat-downs and personal item searches.

But the company argued that because it made adjustments to some nurses’ timesheets but not to others, class certification was inappropriate because the case involves too many uniquely individual issues.

Bough disagreed, noting that timesheets were only adjusted for “unusual circumstances,” such as security delays.

Corizon did not respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Corrections declined to comment.

The lawsuit, which was filed nearly two years ago by three Corizon nurses, seeks damages for unpaid wages under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and Missouri state law. The nurses allege they worked up to four hours or more of overtime each week because they weren’t credited for the time they spent entering and exiting prison facilities.

Corizon manages care for some 116,000 prisoners in state and county facilities at more than 140 locations in 15 states, according to a Reuters investigation last year.

The company has faced numerous lawsuits nationwide alleging it provides inadequate medical care, including hundreds of suits filed by inmates in Missouri and Kansas.

Last year, Corizon and the Missouri Department of Corrections settled a lawsuit alleging that Missouri prisoners were not receiving adequate hepatitis C treatment. Under the settlement, the department and Corizon agreed to spend about $50 million over eight years to provide treatment to inmates with hepatitis C, who are estimated to make up as much as 15% of Missouri’s prison population.

On Monday, Corizon sued to block Missouri’s decision to award the prison health care contract to Centurion Health. The company contended it was denied a fair chance to compete for the re-award of the contract and called the procurement process “unfair, unlawful, unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious.”

Copyright 2021 KCUR 89.3

Dan was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. and moved to Kansas City with his family when he was eight years old. He majored in philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis and holds law and journalism degrees from Boston University. He has been an avid public radio listener for as long as he can remember – which these days isn’t very long… Dan has been a two-time finalist in The Gerald Loeb Awards for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism, and has won multiple regional awards for his legal and health care coverage. Dan doesn't have any hobbies as such, but devours one to three books a week, assiduously works The New York Times Crossword puzzle Thursdays through Sundays and, for physical exercise, tries to get in a couple of rounds of racquetball per week.
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