Correct Care Solutions, the New Orleans jail’s health care provider that has long been under scrutiny for problems with inmate care, has received another extension of its multimillion-dollar contract.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell signed a nine-month contract extension with the Nashville, Tennessee-based company earlier this month. The deal is the second short-term extension signed this year and comes as jail leaders wrestle with whether to retain Correct Care Solutions or change the terms of its contract.
The extension to the $15 million-a-year contract means the company will continue to provide services to the jail until May, giving officials more time to evaluate whether to keep the firm, Cantrell spokesman Beau Tidwell said.
At that point, “a decision will be made on the future of the relationship,” Tidwell said.
Correct Care Solutions is a major player in the prison health care business, but its work in New Orleans has come under fire in wrongful-death lawsuits and federal monitors' reports. It has faced criticism over its staffing levels, high rate of staff turnover and quality of care.
Attorneys for the mother of Jaquin Thomas, a 15-year-old who hanged himself in the jail in October 2016, said Correct Care Solutions staffers ignored warnings that he needed medication for depression.
This year, a nurse who worked for the company said her superiors ignored the crashing vital signs of Dennis Edwards, a 41-year-old inmate who died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease in December. Nurse Natalie Henderson said Edwards might have been saved if he had been sent to the hospital in time.
Both Henderson and Edwards’ family have sued Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman and Correct Care Solutions.
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The company also was named in lawsuits over the deaths of an inmate from a cocaine overdose in February 2017 and an inmate who died from complications of a perforated pyloric ulcer in November.
Meanwhile, the company has been criticized under the jail’s reform agreement with the federal government.
In their most recent report to U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, who oversees the agreement, federal monitors said the jail and Correct Care Solutions “struggle to provide adequate mental health care and achieve compliance with the consent judgment.”
The monitors cited high staff turnover, inadequate training on suicide prevention, poor delivery of prescription drugs and other problems.
Africk worried aloud about mental health care for female inmates in June, a month after a woman died on the jail’s detox protocol.
However, in their late August report, the monitors said morale among health care staffers seemed to be improving. They also praised the company for collaborating with Tulane University psychiatrists to provide mental health care for inmates.
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The company has declined to comment on the lawsuits but defended its work in the jail in a statement.
“CCS works closely with the federal monitors to ensure the patients of Orleans Parish receive quality health care in accordance with their constitutional rights,” spokeswoman Judy Lilley said.
Lilley did not comment on whether the company would seek another contract extension.
Cantrell’s Sept. 6 contract extension followed an earlier, six-month renewal signed by then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu in February, at a time when the mayoral transition was pending and the jail’s court-ordered administrator had resigned under criticism.
The company’s original deal with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office in 2014 led to a bitter dispute with Landrieu’s administration over whether the city had the final say on the contract terms. The administration said at the time that Gusman had ignored Louisiana law to sign an “exorbitant” deal.
The city has the responsibility to fund jail health care under state law. But Africk denied a request from the city to nullify the contract in May 2015.
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In 2016, as violence in the jail continued to surge, Africk approved an order stripping Gusman of most of his powers. The order said that a court-approved compliance director “shall have the final authority” on jail contracts.
Tidwell said that over the course of 2017, the city worked with former compliance director Gary Maynard to oversee Correct Care Solutions and look at “alternative arrangements for long-term care and mental health care.”
However, Maynard resigned in the face of a highly critical report from the federal monitors in January. His replacement, Darnley Hodge, said he wanted to do a comprehensive evaluation of Correct Care Solutions when he took office in February. That was when the original contract expired and the city and Sheriff’s Office enacted their first, six-month extension.
Although the city fought the jail over contracting authority in 2015, Tidwell said that evaluating the company's recent performance is up to the jail.
“The city has provided funding for both OPSO staff and contractors to give OPSO the resources” to do their jobs, Tidwell said in June. “The city is not well positioned to evaluate their services because we get information from OPSO, from the monitors, from the plaintiff attorneys, but we don’t have the direct access that OPSO has to the service providers.”
An attorney for the Sheriff’s Office did not comment.
Despite the city's position that evaluating the contractor's performance is the jail's job, a lawyer who represents inmates as part of the federal reform agreement said both agencies share that duty.
“Neither the city nor the Sheriff's Office is engaging in active oversight or monitoring of the contract,” said Emily Washington, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans. “The medical and mental health provisions of the consent judgment are severely out of compliance, and the level of care being provided continues to fall below constitutional standards.”
The dangers of the New Orleans jail are many and well-documented: riots, suicides, airborne human waste and frequent attacks by inmates on guards.