Su­per­vi­sors urge re­moval of pri­vate firms from jail med­i­cal ser­vices

Board fi­nance com­mit­tee to study fea­si­bil­ity re­ports

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Milwaukee Wisconsin -

The track record of a pri­vate com­pany pro­vid­ing in­mate med­i­cal ser­vices at the Mil­wau­kee County Jail and House of Cor­rec­tion — lack of staff, poor care and fal­si­fy­ing records — prompted one group of su­per­vi­sors this week to rec­om­mend hir­ing county em­ploy­ees to do the job.

Now, Ar­mor Cor­rec­tional Health Ser­vices is fac­ing even more prob­lems — a pend­ing crim­i­nal charge of abuse of pris­on­ers, a felony, re­lated to the treat­ment of Ter­rill Thomas, who died of de­hy­dra­tion while in cus­tody in April 2016.

On Wed­nes­day, the district at­tor­ney’s of­fice filed the charg­ing doc­u­ment and is­sued a sum­mons for Ar­mor Cor­rec­tional to ap­pear in Mil­wau­kee County court on Dec. 12. The court records con­tained scant de­tails.

As the ad­min­is­tra­tion of County Ex­ec­u­tive Chris Abele pre­pares to name the next com­pany re­spon­si­ble for pro­vid­ing in­mate health care un­der a court order, County Board Chair­man Theodore Lip­scomb Sr. on Thurs­day asked the board’s fi­nance com­mit­tee to con­sider mov­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity back to the county.

Lip­scomb said he is op­posed to Ar­mor or any other pri­vate con­trac­tor from be­ing paid for the ser­vice.

In the fall of 2016, the court-or­dered mon­i­tor of the Mil­wau­kee County Jail found the deaths of three in­mates came af­ter mis­takes in med­i­cal care or po­ten­tially poor mon­i­tor­ing of vul­ner­a­ble in­mates.

County au­di­tors in Au­gust of this year re­ported the com­pany failed to meet con­tract staffing re­quire­ments at the jail and House of Cor­rec­tion dur­ing the time — Novem­ber 2015 to Au­gust 2017 — sev­eral peo­ple died while in cus­tody at the jail.

In Novem­ber, Lip­scomb asked county staff in sev­eral de­part­ments to con­sider the fea­si­bil­ity of pro­vid­ing the ser­vices by county em­ploy­ees in­stead of a pri­vate com­pany.

Lip­scomb’s res­o­lu­tion re­quires the Sher­iff’s Of­fice, House of Cor­rec­tion, cor­po­ra­tion coun­sel, comp­trol­ler’s of­fice and ad­min­is­tra­tive ser­vices to re­port their find­ings to the board in late Jan­uary. The fi­nance com­mit­tee unan­i­mously em­braced the pro­posal Thurs­day on a vote of 7-0.

The County Board will act on the re­quest for the study on Dec. 13.

The fi­nance com­mit­tee would re­view the study re­port at its next meet­ing on Jan. 31, ac­cord­ing to Su­per­vi­sor James Sch­mitt, chair­man of the com­mit­tee.

Ar­mor Cor­rec­tional, a Mi­ami-based com­pany, has come un­der fire in re­cent years for in­suf­fi­cient med­i­cal staff, poor care and fal­si­fy­ing in­mate health care records.

Ar­mor’s cur­rent con­tract ends on Dec. 31. County of­fi­cials have de­layed award­ing the next in­mate med­i­cal ser­vices con­tract as they re­view pro­pos­als from Ar­mor and other com­pa­nies, and con­sider the fea­si­bil­ity of hir­ing county em­ploy­ees.

On Mon­day, county of­fi­cials reached an agree­ment with Ar­mor to ex­tend the con­tract for three months, to March 31, to pro­vide time to de­cide on the next ven­dor.

County of­fi­cials ex­pect to se­lect a com­pany to pro­vide the ser­vices within the next week or two, said Amy Pechacek, the county’s deputy di­rec­tor of ad­min­is­tra­tive ser­vices. Af­ter that, a con­tract will be ne­go­ti­ated with the com­pany.

House of Cor­rec­tion Su­per­in­ten­dent Michael Hafe­mann was blunt in telling the com­mit­tee that it would not be fea­si­ble for the county “to hire em­ploy­ees and have them ready to go by April 1,” at the end of Ar­mor’s con­tract ex­ten­sion.

“In pro­vid­ing med­i­cal care for res­i­dents at the jail and House of Cor­rec­tion, we will fully ex­am­ine all our op­tions,” Raisa Koltun, chief of staff for Abele, said in a state­ment. Any re­view of tak­ing the ser­vices back in­house “must in­clude a thor­ough ex­am­i­na­tion of the county’s past fail­ures in pro­vid­ing this type of care and a full anal­y­sis of our ca­pac­ity to per­form this func­tion to the high­est stan­dard,” she said.

Lip­scomb’s pro­posal, if ul­ti­mately ap­proved by the County Board, would take the county full cir­cle in pro­vid­ing in­mate med­i­cal ser­vices.

In 2013, a Mil­wau­kee County judge or­dered the county to bring in Ar­mor Cor­rec­tional un­der an emer­gency con­tract to fix prob­lems with med­i­cal and men­tal health care pro­vided by the county, in­clud­ing staffing short­ages and poor record keep­ing. The county had not been able to fill va­can­cies in med­i­cal ser­vices staff prior to the court order.

For­mer Sher­iff David A. Clarke Jr. was in the of­fice at that time.

Prob­lems with ser­vices have per­sisted since that time un­der Ar­mor, how­ever, in­clud­ing va­can­cies in staff.

Ar­mor has pro­vided in­mate med­i­cal ser­vices un­der a con­tract man­aged by the House of Cor­rec­tion. The con­tract paid Ar­mor $16 mil­lion in 2017 and $16.5 mil­lion this year.

In Fe­bru­ary of this year, Ar­mor was charged in Mil­wau­kee County Cir­cuit Court with fal­si­fy­ing health care records of in­mates at the jail, in­clud­ing Thomas.

Ar­mor em­ploy­ees al­legedly “en­gaged in a pat­tern and prac­tice of in­ten­tion­ally fal­si­fy­ing en­tries in in­mate pa­tient health care records,” a crim­i­nal com­plaint said.

Thomas, a 38-year-old in­mate with bipo­lar dis­or­der, went seven days with­out wa­ter in soli­tary con­fine­ment be­fore his death. One Ar­mor em­ployee recorded check­ing Thomas twice on April 21, a few days be­fore his death, but in­ves­ti­ga­tors said a re­view of sur­veil­lance video footage showed no one had any phys­i­cal con­tact with the in­mate in that time pe­riod.

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