Supervisors urge removal of private firms from jail medical services
Board finance committee to study feasibility reports
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.