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Prison healthcare contract attracts suitors: cheap date or a lasting relationship?

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

The state of Alabama is in the process of determining a new contract for providing medical care and mental health services to state inmates in the prison system.

Evaluating mental and general healthcare providers is a result of federal Judge Myron Thompson’s judgment that state-provided psychological healthcare services within the department of corrections were “horrendously inadequate.” Thompson’s ruling on prison mental health services is seen by many as an omen of what is coming when the Judge decides on general medical care in correctional facilities. Rather than wait for the next nail in the justice system coffin, Gov. Kay Ivey’s administration is in the process of selecting a provider that can meet the standards of care that Judge Thompson will deem adequate.

Over the last several months, the Alabama Political Reporter has featured several stories about the firms vying for the contract, including Centurion LLC, which is a new venture formed by Alabama’s current mental health provider, MHM Services and Centene Corp., and a separate joint venture involving Quality Correctional Health Care and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Current prison medical provider, Corizon Health, is also in the running for the new contract to provide both health and mental health care to inmates.

According to several sources, however, the firm with the inside track to win the new Alabama contract could be Wexford Health, a company with some troubling history.

Chief among them is Wexford’s ties to the prison bribery scandal in Mississippi. Wexford is among the entities cited as conspirators and sued by Mississippi’s attorney general to recoup state losses arising from the scandal.

But also a reason for concern is Wexford’s record of mental health services in Illinois, where it has been the prison contract provider for a number of years.

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A court monitor found last month that the Illinois Department of Corrections under Wexford’s direction had failed to address the requirements of a federal court settlement involving mental health care.

Among other things, the monitor cited “grossly insufficient and extremely poor quality of psychiatric services.”

These revelations raise questions about how Wexford would meet the mandate to upgrade mental health services in Alabama, where federal courts are also involved.

Sources close to the process not permitted to speak publicly on the matter express concerns that Wexford will “lowball” the state to procure the contact and then not be able to meet the requirements necessary to meet the state’s obligations of Judge Thompson’s court. For now, Thompson is allowing the state to work with the Southern Poverty Law Center and other stakeholders to find the best solution.

It is believed the selection process is in its final stages. The state’s decision is being closely monitored, and the company that receives the multi-million dollar contract will need to be free of critical controversy. With tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on the line and the welfare of the state’s prison inmates at stake, sources close to the process are expressing concerns that the state may be falling for a cheap date instead of a lasting relationship, as one source put it.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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