Health Care

Corrections agency scraps prison health contract

Julie Jones
Julie Jones Florida Department of Corrections

Citing shortcomings in mental-health services at a South Florida prison, state corrections officials are terminating a contract with a private healthcare provider months before the deal was set to expire.

Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones on Wednesday canceled the contract with Wexford Health Sources, giving the Pittsburgh-based company a required 180-day notice of termination. The cancellation notice means that Wexford will have to pull out of Florida prisons before its contract was set to expire in December.

Miami Beach State Rep. David Richardson concluded the pricing scheme approved by the Florida Department of Corrections resulted in at least $16 million in overcharges over the past seven years and was either the result of massive government inepti

Jones cited a scathing review this month from the Correctional Medical Authority of treatment offered at the South Florida Reception Center in Doral.

The report, sent to Jones this week, included examples of inmates’ medications being cut off and inmates getting put in restraints instead of being treated with medications.

At the time of the correctional authority’s survey over a two-day period this month, only one of 37 inmates was prescribed psychiatric medications, according to the report.

But in an email to the News Service of Florida, Wexford took “strong exception” to the findings and accused Jones of not allowing the company to respond to the allegations before terminating the contract.

“We treat every patient under our care with respect and dignity, and with the full hope that we can help restore them to mental health. Isolated cases involving inmates with histories of mental problems would not appear to be the basis for termination of an entire contract,” Wexford spokeswoman Wendelyn Pekich said in an email.

But the report draws attention to the types of cases that have earned the department a black eye after reports of inmate abuse at the hands of prison guards and of corrections officers’ lack of training in how to handle mentally ill prisoners.

A Miami Herald I-Team investigation into corruption, sexual abuse and medical neglect at the largest women's prison in the nation, Lowell Correctional. Reporting by Julie K. Brown / jbrown@miamiherald.com.

For example, the report documented the case of one inmate whose medications were discontinued after he was processed into the prison.

After entering the facility, the inmate’s “behavior escalated, as evidenced by smearing feces, multiple self-inflicted lacerations to his arm, as well as banging, threatening, and continuing to cut himself,” according to the report sent to Jones.

The behavior “continued for hours” until a clinician was notified, according to the report.

The patient was placed in restraints, but “there was no documentation that emergency medications were considered,” the evaluators reported.

“There was nothing in the treatment of these inmates that should, or could, justify contract termination based on medical considerations alone,” Pekich said.

A video from inside Dade Correctional Institution, which was released by the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office on March 17, 2017, shows prison guards removing inmate Darren Rainey from his cell.

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