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County Council will award new contract for health services at Volusia jail

News-Journal - 8/19/2018

Aug. 18--The chance to examine the overall care and cost of treating inmates at the Volusia County Branch Jail has prompted the County Council to seek bids from four providers of jail health services.

Each company that's placed a bid will give a 10-minute presentation to the council Tuesday, and then the council will make its selection. The three-year contract begins in 2019, with options for renewal in the two subsequent years.

The new contract comes at a time when the jail's treatment of inmates has increasingly come under scrutiny after a suicide prevention expert was brought in to examine the jail's policies and procedures in the wake of several inmates taking their own lives there.

Interim County Manager George Recktenwald said adding more licensed mental health professionals at the Branch Jail, which holds about 1,500 people daily, is one of the prime concerns that the new contract seeks to address.

"Council has been very supportive of making sure that we give high-quality mental health care," he said. "It will be interesting when they do their presentations. That will be what we're looking for."

Since 2015, Armor Correctional Health Services has been charged with providing medical, dental and mental health care at the jail, and the Miami-based vendor is among the four companies seeking the new contract. Armor, which provides health services to 41,000 inmates in eight states, had its contract extended for one year at a cost of $9 million in June 2017. The contract renewal came with a number of amendments to boost inmate care, including requiring a doctor onsite for 60 hours a week, instead of 40 hours, and the increased use of telemedicine via webcams.

[READ MORE: Volusia Jail inmates to get more access to doctors]

The County Council had the option to renew Armor's contract this year for another year, but it chose to put out a request for proposals.

In its proposal, Armor said it had begun new protocols for pregnant women suffering from opioid addiction and implemented an electronic medical records system. It also said it reduced off-site services by $815,000 during the first two years of its contract and controlled costs amid the opioid epidemic.

There are, however, four lawsuits against Armor that stem from its care at the jail. The family of April Brogan, a 28-year-old woman who died from untreated symptoms of drug withdrawal while incarcerated in May 2015, has brought a wrongful-death suit against Armor and Volusia County in federal court. There are three other open suits, but it is common for jail health providers to be the subject of lawsuits.

[Read More: Lawsuits pile up for health services provider at Volusia jail]

Armor spokeswoman Yeleny Suarez said in a statement that Armor has provided "consistent quality patient care" at the jail, confirmed by a July 2018 audit by the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare, in which 100 percent compliance was achieved.

"Because the cost to ensure quality patient care continues to rise, Armor welcomed the opportunity to rebid the Volusia County inmate health care contract," she said.

In addition to Armor, three other vendors of medical services to prisons and jails have bid on the contract, including Centurion Detention Health Services, which provides care to 150,000 inmates in eight states and currently has a $375 million contract with the Florida Department of Corrections to provide services at all its prisons. Centurion's parent company is Centene, a sizable campaign contributor to Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Republican Party.

The other vendors are Alabama-based Naphcare, which provides services in 26 jails, including in Hillsborough County, and Pennsylvania-based Wexford Health Sources, which provides services to 130,000 inmates at more than 130 facilities but none in Florida.

Councilman Pat Patterson said he isn't aware of any issues with the current jail health care provider. The contract with Armor is expiring, and it's necessary for council members to ensure they pick the best available option, he said, adding that it's not as easy as selecting the cheapest choice.

"This is a big decision," Patterson said. "When we are looking at this, we have to be good stewards of taxpayers' money, but on the other side of it, we have a legal responsibility to take care of these inmates."

-- Staff Writer Dustin Wyatt contributed to this report.

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