Fla. Prison Officials: We Learned Our Lesson, After Main Private Health Provider Backed Out

Jan 15, 2016

Florida Department of Corrections' Chief of Staff Stacy Arias speaking to a panel of lawmakers Wednesday.
Credit Florida Channel

The Florida Department of Corrections is moving forward with finding new private prison health care providers to run those services in the coming months. That’s after the state’s main prison health care provider recently terminated its contract with the state.

A little over a month ago, Corizon Health cancelled its contract with the state, citing the current contract as “too constraining.”

“This cancellation advances the end date of the current Corizon contract from June 30, 2018 to May 30, 2016,” said Stacy Arias. “Approximately 82 percent of our inmate population is served by the Corizon contract.”

Arias, the Florida Department of Corrections’ Chief of Staff, recently spoke before a House budget panel for criminal justice issues.

The state is still contracted with Wexford health services—another provider, which serves 18 percent of its prison population. But, Arias says Corizon served the rest of the state’s prisoners.

And, Arias adds therein lies the problem.

Still, she says they’ve since learned from that mistake.

“What we found as we looked at the history of this contract and talked with medical professionals was that you need to figure out what your really important, unique services are and look at negotiating those, and have separate contracts. It will get us to the best service providers at the best price. It will also get us to one company doesn’t walk and we are left with none of these services. So, there’s a protection element built into that as well,” Arias added.

So, Arias says the process of rebidding the contracts is underway, and they’re doing four specialized contracts.

“The first will be institutional medical services, the second: in-patient and out-patient mental health services, dental services, and medical and hospital operations at a reception medical center,” she continued. “All four of these solicitations were issued on December 18th, and we are currently in an open-solicitation period.”

Arias says while they’re still ironing out the specific amount, they’re putting new language in the contract where there will be financial consequences tied to performance.

“One of the challenges we have had with the current contract is there not being the appropriate number of staff at a facility with a certain type of population, certain illnesses, certain mental health issues, and then, an overall vacancy issue,” she said. “So, you may go into a facility, and find that they’re down 30 percent medical staff, and of course, that translates to poor services for our inmates. Going forward, even in this interim period, where we’re doing these quick contracts, there will be financial consequences for having positions stay open for a certain amount of time, so it doesn’t make you money by keeping vacancies.”

But, Rep. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg) is more interested in another sort of penalty—given how Corizon left and has indicated they plan to contract with the state again.

“What about financial consequences for a vendor that terminates and walks away, and then somehow, lets the public know, that they intend to rebid as soon as this is open,” he asked. “Is there anything that you sent out—the ITN [Invitiation to Negotiate]—that says ‘if you walk away or of we terminate you, you cannot rebid for a year or two years or something like that?”

Arias says there is a process like that already in the contract known as defaulting a vendor, but it was the prison agency’s decision not to follow through with that penalty.

“That language always existed in the current contract,” she replied. “But, we didn’t pull the trigger on that default process and that default process—being in administrative code—it’s always been there.”

And, that frustrated Rouson.

“Going forward…you know, I’m a little upset that we didn’t pull the trigger on the default mechanism. I hope we can take a look at that,” he said

And, Arias promised the agency would. She adds moving forward, they've also further strengthened the new contracts to include language about performance bonds.

“And, the performance bond is extremely impactful, in that, before a contractor walks away, they’re going to have a certain amount of investment,” she concluded. “It’s almost like insurance—that they can walk away and they can hand over that bond and we go get the services, so we don’t have to go back and dip into the pot of taxpayer money. They’re going to have to front the money to get us those services from when they walk away.”

Meanwhile, even with Corizon walking away, some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed disappointment at the level of services both Corizon and Wexford have provided so far—a sentiment that Prison Chief Julie Jones has expressed herself.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.