South Florida

Florida prison system signs contract for inmate healthcare

A company that provides prison healthcare services in five other states announced Monday that it has signed a contract with the Florida Department of Corrections to fill in the gap in coverage after Corizon Healthcare terminated its agreement with the state last fall.

Centurion of Florida LLC, a joint venture between Centene Corp., and MHM Services Inc., announced it has signed an agreement, effective in April, to replace Corizon as the medical provider in Florida’s prisons.

The company’s lead lobbyist is former House Speaker Dean Cannon, and its parent company, Centene Health, is a primary provider of managed Medicaid services in Florida — doing business as Sunshine Health — and one of the largest contributors to legislative political committees in the state. Centene gave $298,000 to legislative campaigns and political committees in 2015 alone.

Centurion currently has five statewide contracts to provide correctional healthcare services, although none in a state as large as Florida. They are in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Tennessee and Vermont.

Corizon Health decided not to renew its $1.1 billion contract with the state in November after months of complaints about inadequate inmate healthcare and dozens of lawsuits.

A year ago, state Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, ordered Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones to renegotiate the Corizon contract after a series of reports in the Miami Herald and other news outlets showed suspicious inmate deaths were covered up or never reviewed, staffing was inadequate and inmate grievances and complaints of harmful medical care were dismissed or ignored.

Centurion’s news release said the company will serve 70,000 inmates in Regions 1, 2 and 3 — covering the northern and central pat of the state — for a contract that runs through January 2018, when the agency expects to complete negotiations for a longer-term healthcare provider. Wexford Health Sources will continue to operate in Region 4, which includes Miami-Dade and Broward, during that time.

Details of the contract and what kind of performance measures will be included have not been released.

Jones said in a statement that the agency “looks forward to working collaboratively with Centurion of Florida and Corizon Health to ensure a seamless transition of healthcare services for our facilities.” She said the department is committed to providing “quality healthcare to those in our custody and improving health outcomes for Florida’s inmates.”

“This agreement with Centurion is a result of the state undertaking negotiation of a gap contract due to early termination by its prior vendor,” Centene Corp. wrote in the news release. It said “the agreement also includes optional renewal periods if the formal procurement is not finalized in the anticipated time frame.”

The company’s lead lobbyist is former House Speaker Dean Cannon and its parent company, Centene Health, is one of the largest contributors to legislative political committees in the state

Steven H. Wheeler, CEO of Centurion, said the company is “pleased to be able to work with the department to improve the quality of services and care levels provided to this population. We also recognize the importance of maintaining sound financial discipline on behalf of the state and its residents.”

Mary Ellen Klas: @MaryEllenKlas