Shawnee County to consider contract with provider that settled class-action hernia operations suit

The Shawnee County Jail (File photo/Capital-Journal)

Tennessee-based Corizon Health made news last September when it agreed to pay $1.7 million to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging it withheld hernia surgery from Florida prison inmates who needed it.


Still, a Shawnee County review committee in July recommended the county continue its nearly 15-year working relationship with Corizon after it was among two companies — the other being Tennessee-based Correct Care Solutions — that sought the contract to provide medical and mental health services for the county’s adult and juvenile detention centers.

County corrections director Brian Cole said Wednesday that while he was unaware of what specifically happened in Florida, part of the contract being considered requires following and maintaining national standards of correctional medical and mental health care as set forth by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care.

“Since contracting health care services through Prison Health Services/Corizon, our agency has successfully passed multiple surveys, as well as other surveys from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and other auditing entities,” Cole said.

Commissioners Bob Archer, Kevin Cook and Shelly Buhler plan to consider approving a four-year contract that county staff members negotiated with Corizon when they meet at 9 a.m. Thursday in their chambers in Room B-11 of the County Courthouse, 200 S.E. 7th.

Commissioners voted July 31 to authorize negotiation of the contract.

“We have determined that our current vendor, Corizon Health (Corizon), brought the overall superior, developed system to the table,” Cole told the commission in a memorandum on page 119 of the agenda packet for its July 31 meeting.

The agreement, which includes two one-year options, would take effect Jan. 1. It calls for the county to pay Corizon $3.15 million next year, followed by increases in years two through four of 2.4 percent, 3.5 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively.

The News Service of Florida reported last September Corizon had agreed to pay $1.7 million to current and former inmates to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging Corizon and the Florida Department of Corrections denied inmates hernia operations they needed.

The lawsuit complaint, filed on behalf of three inmates in September 2015, alleged Corizon and the corrections department violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment by refusing medical care in an effort to save money.

Corizon pulled out of its five-year, $1.2 billion contract with the state of Florida three years early, saying it was losing up to $1 million a month on the deal.

According to a consent order given preliminary approval last September by a federal judge, the state and Corizon “continue to vigorously deny all allegations contained in the complaint,” but agreed to the settlement “to avoid costly and protracted litigation.”

The settlement has not yet received final approval from the court, said Martha Harbin, director of external affairs for Corizon, on Wednesday.

“In reaching the settlement agreement, no evidence was presented to support the allegations and neither Corizon or the FDOC admits to any liability,” she said.

Corizon follows all clinical guidelines regarding the treatment of hernias, Harbin said.

She said Corizon’s operations at the Shawnee County Department of Corrections have maintained accreditation by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, an organization created by the American Medical Association that sets standards recognized by the medical professional and the courts as the benchmark for establishing and measuring a correctional health services program.

NCCHC surveyed the jail in June and found it in compliance for re-accreditation, Harbin added.

“Our doctors and nurses are committed to providing excellent and proactive preventive care that meets the needs of our patients, and makes the best use of public resources,” she said. “We look forward to continuing to serve the citizens of Shawnee County with a constitutionally sound inmate health services program, using clinical best practices and evidence-based medicine.”

Corizon, formerly Prison Health Services, began providing services to Shawnee County in 2003, corrections department Maj. Tim Phelps said Wednesday.

“They continued the contract in 2008 and negotiated an extension in 2013 in return for providing a zero percent increase for several years during the recession,” he said. “That is what brought us to the present bidding process.”

So far, Phelps said, Corizon hasn’t provided mental health services beyond a part-time psychiatrist who reviews recommendations for medication from county employees on the corrections department’s mental health team when inmates show indications they need it.

“This agreement will shift all mental health services under Corizon, and enhance those services to address the growing need for earlier intervention and continuity of care between community resources and detention-based services,” Phelps said.

Cole discussed reasons for choosing Corizon over Correct Care Solutions in his July memo to commissioners.

“Operationally, Corizon demonstrated they had better processes to guide on-site delivery of services, as well as a matured support structure able to send subject matter experts in to guide development, as well as shore up gaps that may develop in service delivery,” he wrote.

The staffing plan put forth by Corizon also demonstrated a better understanding of the corrections department’s unique service delivery challenges, including coverage during nontraditional days and hours for mental health positions, Cole wrote.

“Corizon’s mental health program was comprehensive in structure, allowing for experience-based future growth upon an initially sound platform, which emphasizes early intervention to stabilize the mentally ill patient and reduce instances of emergent crises,” he wrote.

Contact reporter Tim Hrenchir

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