By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Shortly, Gov. Kay Ivey, along with key advisers, will determine what health service provider can best address the court order mandates to improve health care in Alabama’s correctional facilities.
Alabama officials who are considering turning over state prison health care to Wexford Health Services should take time to review the firm’s conduct since taking over Indiana’s contract earlier this year.
There are indications that Wexford is over-promising and under-delivering throughout the country. As reported by Alabama Political Reporter last month, Wexford has failed to deliver on its obligation in Illinois, where it vowed to help that state emerge from federal court supervision.
Undeterred by its troubles in the Land of Lincoln, Wexford is working to secure a similar contract in Alabama.
In neighboring Indiana, Wexford appears to be repeating the same pattern and practice not unlike what it did in Illinois, where a court monitor cited “grossly insufficient and extremely poor quality of psychiatric services.”
In Indiana, records obtained by Alabama Political Reporter show that Wexford is falling short of required staffing levels, particularly in the area of mental and behavioral health care, which is a big problem area in Alabama. Wexford’s staff shortfalls also have led to backlogs in providing care, especially with regard to prisoners with chronic medical conditions including diabetes and HIV.
Under Indiana’s guidelines, chronic care prisoners must be seen every 90 days to ensure their conditions are managed efficiently and their health is maintained, according to sources familiar with Indiana’s prison system. Per its contract with the state of Indiana, Wexford is subject to a $10,000 fine for every correctional facility that records more than five chronic care prisoners at the end of a week who failed to receive the required care.
In Wexford’s Nov. 1 report, at least six institutions had chronic care backlogs exceeding five inmates, and some exceeded that standard by a significant degree. In one facility in the Nov. 1 report, 100 inmates had missed the 90-day requirement for chronic care services.
While the state of Indiana will be able to recoup funds due to Wexford’s failure to live up to the contract, that is hardly the point. Indiana needed a vendor to live up to the terms of the agreement, and that’s what Alabama will need, too.
The ongoing litigation makes the state of Alabama’s selection of a contractor to provide these services all the more critical.
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.
But sources continue to express concerns that Wexford has the inside track for the job because it has submitted a “lowball” bid that looks good on paper but won’t be sufficient to live up to Judge Thompson’s requirements.
Wexford’s history in Indiana seems to validate those concerns. It significantly underbid other competitors to win the Indiana contract – which had previously been held by Corizon, but it is so far falling short of providing the level of services required in its agreement with the state. And none of this takes into account the lawsuit filed by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood against several companies and individuals, including Wexford, for engaging in a series bribes, kickbacks and payoffs to former Prison Commissioner Chris Epps.
This might be one bargain Alabama cannot afford.