ELOY, AZ — An employee at Saguaro Correctional Center, a private prison located in Eloy, is speaking out about insufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for staff, and a lack of COVID-19 safety precautions.
This worker asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation since they are currently employed at the facility. The ABC15 Investigators confirmed this person’s employment.
“You can go in and be like ‘hey I’m not feeling good’ but since you passed your temperature check and we don’t have the staff, you’re getting thrown into the shift whether you’re sick or not,” stated the employee.
According to a spokesperson for CoreCivic, the private company running Saguaro Correctional Center, “Our employees’ health and well-being is a top priority. Since COVID-19 began to spread in the United States, we have been working to educate our staff on best practices regarding prevention and screening, and have taken steps to prepare for increased levels of the virus in communities nationwide.”
But for the employee claims only those inside the prison know what’s really going on.
“Today we got another 150. As I was marking them off like they're standing right in front of me, right next to their names they had positive for COVID and there's about 150 of them. You got about 40 of us, the staff, all in one big room with them and just exposing all of us to them.”
Saguaro is contracted to house inmates from Idaho, Nevada, Hawaii, and Kansas.
CoreCivic wouldn’t confirm the number of inmates infected with Coronavirus. They did say this facility had 12 confirmed cases of employees with COVID-19, but 10 have now recovered and have been medically cleared to return to work.
“Any of our employees that have not yet returned to work are recovering at home and are in regular communication with their healthcare providers,” said a spokesperson for CoreCivic.
According to the Kansas Department of Corrections, they haven't had any positive cases reported among their residents at the contract site located at Saguaro Correctional Center.
The Idaho Department of Correction reports, as of September 10, Saguaro has tested 438 Idaho inmates, of those, 307 resulted negative, three resulted positive and 121 were asymptomatic positive. According to their website, seven inmates are still waiting for their results.
Meanwhile, the State of Hawaii Department of Public Safety’s website reports, as of September 10, 43 of their inmates have been tested at Saguaro. Of those, 42 resulted negative.
ABC15 also reached out to the Nevada Department of Corrections, but have not yet received a response.
The whistleblower says Saguaro keeps admitting new inmates with COVID-19 every week and that some arrive without masks, putting staff at risk during their transport.
“We can't force them to wear a mask. They’re all riding in the same plane, the same vehicles together and some of these guys cough on staff on purpose. No face shields because we ran out of some of that stuff.”
CoreCivic couldn’t provide us detailed information about the transport of inmates, citing security concerns. A spokesperson for Corecivic told us they do have personal protective equipment available.
“During any transport all of our employees and those entrusted to our care are provided with the appropriate level of PPE to mitigate the risk of exposure or transmission of COVID-19. We also follow internal guidelines about the number of individuals permitted to be within a vehicle at a time to ensure social distancing is possible.”
According to an inventory provided by CoreCivic, as of September 3, Saguaro had an average of 10,000 masks, 1,000 face shields, 69,000 gloves available weekly.
We don't know how much of that PPE is used on a daily basis, but according to information provided by CoreCivic, Saguaro has about 330 employees and can house about 1,900 inmates.
The employee says more needs to be done to protect them from the exposure to coronavirus they face every day.
“The inmates, when they go outside, they have to automatically quarantine for two weeks. But what about the staff? They get exposed to all and they don’t have to quarantine or nothing,” expressed the employee.
According to a spokesperson for CoreCivic, “any time an employee feels as though they are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or if they may have been exposed to a positive case, they are asked to self-quarantine for 14-days, as recommended by the CDC, and seek medical guidance from their personal healthcare provider.”
The employee told the ABC15 Investigators that they are currently short staffed and have been forced to stay and complete their shifts even if they present COVID-19 like symptoms. “We had an officer, she was sick with a fever throwing up, but we didn’t have the staff to send her home. She was stuck there even longer for a 12 hour shift.”
“Saguaro Correctional Center consistently recruits and hires above the current staffing pattern to allow for attrition, as is customary in this industry,” stated a spokesperson for CoreCivic.
But the employee says the reality is different and is not only taking a toll on them, but also their families. “Like today, I already told my kids for the next few weeks you need to stay away from me. I have to take precautions. This is probably going to get bad before it gets good, but right now, it looks like this is really going to spread.”