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Board of Public Works Approves Health Care Contract Over PJC Objections

Previously reported was the PJC’s Prisoners’ Rights Project success in persuading Maryland not to renew its contract with Prison Health Services, a for profit company that provided health care to all state penal intuitions, including the Baltimore City Detention Center.  However, we were not successful in persuading the state to move from for profit delivery system to non profit health care.  As the Daily Record article below reports, Maryland will award the contract to a new group of for profit health care providers to care for state prisoners.

Prison pacts withstand opposition

June 2, 2005
Daily Record Business Writer

Opposition from some civil liberties advocacy groups could not stop the Board of Public Works from approving contracts yesterday with five companies to provide health care services at the state’s correctional facilities.

In letters to the board, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Justice Center urged against the approval of a contract with Correctional Medical Services Inc., a St. Louis-based company that provides prison health services in 27 states. The groups accused the company of inadequate care and cost-cutting, leading to some inmate deaths.

“They are taking contracts at too low a cost. They are in business to make a profit,” said Elizabeth Alexander, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, in a telephone interview following the board’s vote. “I have no confidence that CMS will deliver minimally adequate health care under the contract.”

Currently, Prison Health Services Inc. of Tennessee holds the contract to provide health services to the state’s inmates. Earlier this year, the company came under media scrutiny for alleged inadequate inmate medical care in New York. In a letter to Board of Public Works member Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, the Public Justice Center called the new contract “merely a change in form, and not in substance.”

The new contract, which takes effect July 1, was split into six components in order to improve oversight and care. The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services awarded Correctional Medical Services the largest of six contract components for medical care services.

Correctional Medical Services has also been the subject of media scrutiny, but company spokesman Ken Fields refuted the accusations and said the company is committed to “providing care early and promptly in a way that improves patient health and most effectively utilizes taxpayer resources.”

The ACLU, however, wants states to work with university hospitals or nonprofits to provide health care in the prison system.

But that solution may sound easier than it is, said corrections department spokesman Mark Vernarelli.

“The problem is there have been very few takers in the arena of prison health care. There are very few companies of any kind willing to take on this gargantuan task,” he said.

Indeed, the department’s assistant secretary for treatment services, Richard Rosenblatt, said neither Johns Hopkins nor the University of Maryland expressed interest in partnering with the state to provide the care.

Vernarelli said his department expected only a small number of bidders for the contracts, but hoped the new format would improve the quality of the care those bidders would provide. The new format includes a separate oversight component. The company awarded that portion of the contract — Wexford Health Sources Inc. of Pittsburgh — may not hold any of the other contract segments.

“What we expect from these bidders is more accountability,” said Vernarelli. “This administration has taken a very close look at the issues involving inmate medical care with an eye towards improving that care, if at all possible. What you’re seeing now is much more scrutiny.”

The new contract also includes more funding for prison health care, and more financial flexibility. Previously, the contract was a flat-rate fee agreement, which meant Prison Health Services was responsibility for any costs above what the state provided. Last year, the company received $54.7 million from the state, and lost $12.5 million.

The new contract is a reimbursement contract, which requires the state to reimburse the company for additional costs. For the year beginning July 1, the state expects to spend approximately $110 million for all six contract components.

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