Wexford Health Sources, Inc., a private correctional medicine company from Pittsburg, was fired by the Department of Corrections 8 months before the contract was supposed to terminate.
Wexford provides medical and mental health services to prisons in Region IV, which include the prisons in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, and Okeechobee Counties. According to Florida’s Chief Financial Officer the total amount of the contract was just under $238 million. To date, Florida has paid Wexford just under $185 million.
On April 19, 2017, Julie Jones, Secretary of the FDOC, gave Wexford 180-day notice of termination. Jones’ reason for cancelling the contract was poor mental health services.
It was reported that Jones was
Absolutely outraged at Wexford’s lack of performance and delivery of services.
Wexford responded in kind in the news stating that it took exception to the FDOC’s findings and accused Secretary Jones of not allowing the company to answer the allegations of poor care before terminating the contract.
Private Prison Healthcare in Florida
There have been several permutations of private companies providing healthcare services in Florida. This is not the first that Wexford has provided healthcare services in Florida prisons. Wexford was under contract in the early mid-2000s before it lost the contract to Corizon.
In 2015, Corizon walked away from its contract with the FDOC. In January 2016, Centurion of FL, LLC took over the facilities that Corizon served. FDOC’s contract with Centurion was for $453 million. To date, the FDOC has paid $222 million of the contract. It will be interesting to see if the FDOC puts out the facilities that Wexford has for bid or if Centurion will take over the care.
Wexford has had its share of problems with allegations of denying medical care and violating inmates’ civil rights. In 2013, Wexford was in the middle of a problem with healthcare services in the Arizona. Some reports say that Wexford was ousted after charges of incompetence and multiple deaths.
In September 2011, Wexford entered a contract to provided medical care in Illinois prisons. The contract was for $1.36 billion over a 10-year period.
In April 2017, Wexford took over care in the Indiana state prisons. The initial contract is for three years with two additional three year options. The initial three-year term is for $309 million dollars. Wexford’s press release that it will place a “special emphasis on improving mental health and substance abuse programing.” This brings up the question – how does this statement jive with the FDOC findings of deficiencies in South Florida Reception Center’s inpatient mental health unit? And Jones’ statement in Wexford’s termination letter that the conditions were found to be “life threatening and serious.”
The US Constitution doesn’t require perfect medical care in prisons. As a matter of fact, the Constitution even allows negligent medical care in prisons. Federal Courts have said over and over that just because someone in incarcerated doesn’t mean that a medical negligence or medical malpractice claim is turned into a civil rights violation.
On the other hand, the Eighth Amendment requires inmates to be free from cruel and usual punishment. In the medical context that means a healthcare provider or prison official should show deliberate indifference to an inmate’s serious medical need. A deliberate indifference claim is not a difference of opinion between the inmate and healthcare provider over the appropriate medical treatment. Instead, deliberate indifference requires the inmate to have a “serious medical need”, and the healthcare appreciate the risks associated with the medical condition, and choose to ignore the condition. This is a pretty high standard and hurdle for a prisoner to overcome.