Lansing – Michigan prison inmates have a new health care provider as a $ 590 million contract with links to a controversial company began this month.
The contract is with Grand Prairie Healthcare Services, a medical practice owned by Dr. Dean Rieger of Nashville, Tenn. Grand Prairie also works in partnership with a Nashville-based health care company, Wellpath.
According to Rieger’s description of Grand Prairie’s partnership with Wellpath, his firm will be the state’s sole provider of inmate medical care. Wellpath will provide non-clinical support, such as human resources, financial and legal services.
The companies are working together in 18 states, Judy Lilley, Wellpath’s vice president of corporate communications, wrote in an email. This includes the care of more than 10,000 inmates in Michigan County jails.
This change for Michigan state prisons will result in savings of up to 20% compared to the current supplier, Corizon, Lilley said. Grand Prairie and Wellpath share a commitment to “quality, efficient and effective care,” she said.
The Grand Prairie contract scored the highest in a proposal review, said Chris Gautz, public information officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections. The company’s value comes from its experience in crisis intervention, providing weekend and overnight care to inmates, and its drug practices that could reduce drug costs.
The company also offers better tracking and transparency of prisoner care than the previous provider, Gautz said.
But critics are skeptical. Matthew Robb, a Detroit lawyer, is investigating a statewide class action lawsuit over Wellpath’s prescribing policies and mental health care in Michigan County jails.
Wellpath is one of the largest incarcerated health care providers in the country, Robb said.
Grand Prairie has been a Wellpath partner “for almost a decade,” as Dr. Rieger describes it on the Wellpath website. However, Wellpath did not exist until 2018.
After acquiring healthcare provider Correct Care Solutions, HIG Capital merged it with Correctional Medical Group Companies under the name Wellpath. Correct Care is a former partner of Grand Prairie.
According to US Security and Exchange Commission records, Dr. Reiger was also an executive at Correct Care.
Controversies regarding Correct Care and Wellpath have surfaced in several publications:
- Last July, the Traverse City Record Eagle reported in court testimony from prisoners and their families alleging Wellpath withheld medication and treatment.
- CNN reported that between 2014 and 2019, the company was accused of contributing to 70 deaths.
- The Detroit Free Press reported on Jessica Preston’s trial over Correct Care Solutions in the Macomb County Jail. Preston alleges that her rights were violated when she had to give birth on the prison floor.
- A Metro Times article listed several allegations regarding the care and retention of prescription drugs in properly-cared prisons. This article mentions Brad Lafuze, who did not receive his medication at the Grand Traverse County Jail. He also mentions David Stojcevski, who died in Macomb County Jail from prescription drug withdrawal.
- A 2018 report by Project on Government Oversight, an independent, non-partisan watchdog, found that Correct Care and its acquired companies had been sued nearly 1,400 times in the past decade.
Focusing on the number of lawsuits is misleading, Lilley wrote. Wellpath healthcare professionals provide high quality care across the country, she said.
“When it comes to lawsuits, 91% of all cases are closed without payment by Wellpath,” Lilley wrote in an email.
Although county jails are not run by the state, these cases raise questions about Wellpath’s practices and the state’s contract value to taxpayers, Robb said. In both county and state prisons, the incentive remains outsourcing and reducing liability.
“They keep changing names, but it’s still the same company headquartered in Tennessee that is largely funded by private equity firms,” Robb said. “It’s a huge role play in terms of business training. “
In state prisons, Wellpath will serve as the management services organization for Grand Prairie, Lilley wrote. This means managing administrative tasks related to human resources, such as recruiting, finance and legal services.
Often times, these management service organizations are set up to minimize liability and maximize profits, said Tom Watkins, former head of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority. In his experience, issues of transparency and accountability in state contracts are not new. once public dollars go private and they lose public scrutiny, Watkins said.
However, the state is responsible for ensuring value for those for whom the service is purchased, Watkins said. This applies whether it is cars for state employees or purchasing health care for prisoners.
This care is an important responsibility for an aging population. About a quarter of Michigan’s prisoners are over 50 years old. Many are serving life sentences without parole or sentences of more than 20 years, said John Cooper, executive director of Safe & Just Michigan, a prison reform and advocacy group. Health care for inmates is a major concern of his organization and also represents a significant cost to Michigan taxpayers.
Michigan has the oldest prison population in the country, including people in their 60s, Gautz said. Many did not receive regular health care before their incarceration. Undiagnosed illnesses are often discovered in prison.
“There is no Medicare or Medicaid coverage for incarcerated people,” Cooper said. “So it’s all the Michigan State General Fund dollars that are paying for these things.”
The doctors in Michigan prisons are largely under contract with companies like Wellpath. Other health care providers, such as nurses, are employed by the state. The public / private system is increasing the ministry’s oversight over health care and the use of taxpayer resources, Gautz said.
“Having government employees and contract workers together, rather than a single entity providing all services, helps us ensure that patients receive the care they need and deserve,” did he declare.
Corrections reviewed the validity of the old complaints and allegations, but mainly focused on the content of the Grand Prairie proposals, Gautz said.
“They are human beings and we are entrusted with their care. Said Gautz. “This is something the state must take and take very seriously. “
The prison service has a contract monitoring unit to prevent abuse, Gautz said. This unit administers fines when necessary against contractors who reduce their payments.
“We have very strict protocols and when things are not done we have ways to hold them to account,” he said.
This level of state oversight over large foreign companies can be difficult, Watkins said.
“The state doesn’t even have the staff, these companies have every lobbyist, every public relations firm, every accountant,” Watkins said. “It would be like a junior Golden Gloves boxer taking on Muhammad Ali.”
Governments can contract these companies by seeking to reduce costs and liability, but they are designed to sidestep liability, Robb said.
“It’s a game of Whack-a-mole, trying to push responsibility from place to place,” Robb said.
People should remember that anyone can end up in jail or in jail, Robb said. Michigan residents should be careful of how these contracts may affect the entire state.
“There are consequences for all of us, so be vigilant,” Robb said. “Deprivation of care and resources hurts us all. “