WILKES-BARRE — Still reeling from the deaths of four female inmates since June, Luzerne County government is shopping around for a prison medical and mental health services provider.
County council had approved a three-year contract with Kansas-based Correct Care Solutions (CCS) in March 2015 as part of a prior administration’s recommendation to partially outsource the services to save the county approximately $600,000 annually.
Under the contract, Correct Care is paid around $2.1 million per year to provide a range of services and personnel, including a medical and mental health team to perform inmate screening, health assessments and examinations.
Correct Care representatives were grilled by county council in January as part of a presentation scheduled in the wake of the Jan. 9 suicide of 21-year-old prisoner Hailey Povisil.
Two other inmates died from hangings deemed suicides last year: Brooke Griesing on June 8 and Tricia Cooper on July 25. The July 7 death of Joan Rosengrant was ruled accidental; it was caused by the combined effect of prescription drugs complicated by her unspecified physical condition, officials determined.
County Manager C. David Pedri told council last week the administration has negotiated a one-month contract extension with Correct Care, at its current rates, through April 30. Council will be asked next month to approve a longer extension as the county publicly seeks proposals from Correct Care and any other interested entities.
Posted at www.luzernecounty.org, the request for proposals contains an April 30 submission deadline and a May 30 target for vendor selection and contract negotiation.
Any contract extension with Correct Care will contain a 120-day opt-out clause that can be triggered for any reason in case the county opts to transition to another provider, Pedri said, stressing the county is encouraging Correct Care to apply.
“Obviously, the medical services, especially with regards to mental health, have been a hot button of contention in this room and in other rooms throughout the county to say the least,” Pedri said.
County officials continue to explore options to prevent suicides and improve mental health services, he said.
The administration is finalizing contracts with experts to perform independent psychiatric reviews of the four female inmate deaths, Pedri said.
County Councilman Stephen A. Urban said he had the impression from Correct Care’s January presentation that some were trying to make the company a “scapegoat” for the four deaths.
“I didn’t think that that was very appropriate,” Urban told Pedri. “They’re a medical provider. They don’t run that facility. You run that facility along with the warden.”
Pedri said that wasn’t his intention, because the county and company are “in this together.”
“I think we have to take a good, hard look at CCS as well as internal policies as well as everything else we do at the prison, which we have,” Pedri said.
Correct Care must arrange and fund on-site suicide intervention, therapy, evaluations and other mental health services plus provide at least four hours of weekly focus on women’s health issues, according to its contract. Prescription and non-prescription drugs, emergency ambulance transport and other medical treatment also are included in the package.
The county continues to employ 13 unionized licensed practical nurses at the prison on Water Street in Wilkes-Barre and the nearby minimum offenders building on Reichard Street, but they take direction from Correct Care, according to the county. While county staffers can refer inmates to suicide watch, the company determines when they are removed from heightened monitoring.
Company representatives cited figures on the opioid epidemic, rising inmate suicide rates and mental health conditions nationwide.
Steps taken by the company to improve monitoring following the four deaths included the addition of another full-time mental health professional and the use of computer pads so clinical staffers can visit inmates instead of making them report to an office.
Some county officials complained about absences of company staff. The contract calls for registered nurses to be on duty 24/7. However, the company is not penalized for vacancies unless they exceed 30 days, when a credit is applied, officials said.
County Correctional Services Division Head Mark Rockovich has said there have been cases where one of the registered nurse positions was vacant for more than 30 days. The contract predates his July 2016 hiring as division head, and he said he would not have negotiated a contract allowing vacancies.
Pedri told council the county has followed up on the issue and obtained credits, but the administration wants the staffers — not credits.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.