The Delaware Department of Corrections has selected a new organization for the state’s seven-figure contract to provide medical services to people incarcerated by the state.
On Friday, the state corrections agency announced it had signed a three-year deal with Kansas-based VitalCore Health Strategies. VitalCore Health Strategies offers similar services at 100 lockup facilities in 15 states.
Why this matters: The provision of medical services to inmates is essential both to their well-being in prison and their health upon release, as well as in addressing issues such as substance abuse that drive individuals back to prison. The contract value, which totals over $220 million over three years, is also a significant state expenditure.
What exactly is your job: In Delaware, VitalCore is responsible for managing the health care system at the state’s four prisons and probation facilities. This primarily involves hiring individuals to manage the day-to-day health care needs of prisoners. This includes everything from routine pharmacy services, answering sick calls, dental care, and diagnosing serious health problems. These responsibilities also include facilitating out-of-prison expert care when necessary.
Medication is also important. Under separate agreements, VitalCore also manages behavioral care and substance abuse treatment. This is sometimes part of the prisoner’s individual sentence and is often part of the factors that lead them to break the law and go to prison.
How much does this cost?
Both services are covered by a separate three-year contract with renewal options. The contract represents an increase in the amount the state will pay for these services.
According to the organization’s 2020 agreement with the state, former healthcare provider Centurion of Delaware was paid $47.8 million annually for healthcare services and $21.1 million for behavioral care. VitalCore will receive $49.2 million annually in healthcare and $25.2 million in behavioral health and substance abuse treatment services.
In a news release, Delaware Commissioner of Corrections Monroe Hudson said VitalCore “has built a strong track record of successful delivery of high-quality medical and behavioral health care to patients.”
The contract was signed after a competitive bidding process involving proposals from four different companies.
One of those bidders was Centurion of Delaware, the current health care provider. Centurion’s contract, which expires this year, included a clause for parties to renew the contract without going through a public tender process.
In a news release announcing the deal with VitalCore, DOC spokesperson Jason Miller said the department has “acknowledged” Centurion’s efforts during the pandemic, as well as the state’s correctional system’s substance abuse treatment program and other “innovations.” I wrote that I remade.
Managing medical services for prisoners in Delaware has been a difficult problem for years. Prior to Centurion, the service was managed by the Connections Community Support program.
Connections has faced settlements of several high-profile lawsuits over issues related to the administration of healthcare services in prisons.
- These lawsuits included allegations such as an employee inadvertently allowing a suffering man to die from a ruptured stomach ulcer.
- The organization was also the subject of several employee lawsuits from which the nonprofit owed money, as well as lawsuits from hospitals.
- Connections Community Support Programs filed a federal lawsuit in April 2021, alleging it defrauded the federal government of more than $4.5 million as part of a contract with another state out of prison.
- The nonprofit’s founder and CEO, Cathy Devaney McKay, was among the executives charged with failing to delegate responsibility for complying with federal law when dealing drugs.
She settled the lawsuit and agreed to pay $300,000, and Connections, as an organization, agreed to a $15 million settlement. The nonprofit has declared bankruptcy after being sued by federal authorities.
Prison officials terminated their contract with Connections early and chose Centurion as their replacement in 2020.
Related: Connections reaches $15.3 million settlement in federal fraud and drug trafficking lawsuits
Centurion is also controversial
Inmates interviewed by Delaware Online/The News Journal said there was little change in the quality of medical services between Connections and Centurion.
- They said there were frequent delays and mix-ups regarding routine sick calls.
- Some complained that they needed to see an outside medical professional for painful or worsening conditions, which could take a year or more.
- Others complained of chaos within the prison system’s substance abuse system caused by the expulsion of certain employees.
- The Centurion has also been the subject of multiple lawsuits by prisoners, including large-scale lawsuits over care during the COVID-19 pandemic and withholding of painkillers.
- Prison officials confirmed at a meeting with state legislators last year that a corrective action plan was in place regarding Centurion staffing.
In a press release announcing the hiring of VitalCore, officials said their deal will begin in July. VitalCore is also facing large-scale lawsuits over its handling of inmate healthcare in other states.
Contact Xerxes Wilson at (302) 324-2787 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Ber_Xerxes on Twitter. Delaware prisoners can also contact Xerxes Wilson on the GettingOut app.