BY JIM SAUNDERS
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE – Saying a contract with the state is “too constraining,” a company that provides health care to 75,000 Florida prison inmates gave notice Monday that it will end the agreement as of May 31.
Corizon Health, which in 2013 received a five-year contract to provide health care at prisons in three regions of the state, said it exercised a 180-day cancellation provision in the contract. It was not immediately clear what will happen at the end of the period, though Corizon said the six months will allow a transition.
Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones in February announced an intention to re-bid prison health contracts through a process known as an invitation to negotiate. Through that process, the department indicated it wanted to address issues such as staffing, mental-health services and the use of electronic health records.
Both sides respond
In a prepared statement Monday, Corizon Chief Executive Officer Karey Witty alluded to those issues.
“We appreciate the contracts for inmate health services permit very little of the flexibility that Secretary Jones would like in order to address issues such as staffing, mental health care, and electronic health records,” Witty said. “We have tried to address the department’s concerns but have found the terms of the current contract too constraining. At this point, we believe the best way to move forward is to focus our efforts on a successful transition to a new provider.”
McKinley Lewis, a department spokesman, said in an email that Jones met Monday with Corizon and received notice of the cancellation. The email said a contract with another health-care provider, Wexford Health Sources, will continue.
“In the coming months, Secretary Jones will work closely with the Department’s Office of Health Services to ensure that the appropriate staff and resources are available at our facilities to continue seamless delivery of appropriate medical care to our inmate population,’’ Lewis said in the email.
“While Corizon has terminated its contract with the Department of Corrections, we will continue our partnership with Wexford Health Sources and will work closely with their leadership throughout this process.”
A legislative decision in 2011 to privatize prison health-care services was highly controversial and drew legal challenges. But ultimately, Tennessee-based Corizon and Pennsylvania-based Wexford received contracts to move ahead.
Corizon provides health services at prisons across North Florida and Central Florida, such as at Florida State Prison in Bradford County and other institutions that are critical employers in rural areas.
In a news release Monday, Corizon said it would work with the Department of Corrections “to plan a transition schedule and to mitigate employee concerns regarding their future employment. This is will help ensure a stable environment for safe and effective clinical care for the patients during this changeover.”
Jones’ announcement in February that she wanted to re-bid the health contracts came amid intense scrutiny of the prison system. While that scrutiny included prison health care, it focused heavily on issues such as reports about guards abusing inmates and allegations of cover-ups.
Under the current agreements, Corizon receives $229 million per year. Wexford, which provides services in a smaller number of prisons in South Florida, is being paid $48 million a year.