Investigation raises questions about potential Pa. prison medical provider

The probe, which was published last year, explored complaints and issues in 32 states


By Jeff Horvath
The Citizens' Voice

LACKAWANNA COUNTY, Pa. — A scathing CNN investigation raises questions about the quality of care rendered by a firm that may become Lackawanna County Prison's next inmate medical provider.

CNN's investigation, published last year, explored complaints and issues in 32 states and included a review of lawsuits that found Nashville, Tennessee-based Correct Care Solutions, now Wellpath, "has been accused of contributing to more than 70 deaths." Correct Care Solutions became Wellpath in 2018, after it was acquired by H.I.G. Capital, a multi-billion dollar private equity firm, and combined with a California company, Correctional Medical Group Companies.

The lawsuits CNN reviewed were filed between 2014 and 2018.

The Lackawanna County Prison Board unanimously recommended earlier this month that the county contract with Wellpath, one of four firms that submitted proposals for consideration, when the county's current pact with Moosic-based Correctional Care Inc. expires in January.

In other lawsuits filed against Correct Care Solutions over that five-year period, "inmates have alleged prolonged suffering, ongoing complications, shortened life expectancy and debt," according to CNN's report. "Coroner's reports, medical records and government investigations provide evidence of CCS's direct role in many of those cases."

In a statement to The Times-Tribune, which could not independently confirm CNN's findings, Wellpath argued the situations described in the report don't represent a pattern of care.

"Wellpath is 15,000 dedicated doctors, nurses and clinicians who engage in more than 100 million annual encounters with more than 300,000 fragile, underserved patients every day," the statement reads. "Unfortunate outcomes occasionally occur, like they do in all healthcare settings. Many are unavoidable, but some are the result of Wellpath policies not being followed."

Commissioners are likely to vote on the Wellpath contract Wednesday, but Commissioner Chris Chermak has misgivings about the firm given CNN's reporting.

"I would think the prison board needs to look into this, because they're the ones that are going to have to feel comfortable (with Wellpath)," said Chermak. "Right now I don't."

Chermak and Commissioners Jerry Notarianni and Debi Domenick sit on the prison board with Judge James Gibbons, Sheriff Mark McAndrew, Controller Gary DiBileo and District Attorney Mark Powell.

Notarianni and Domenick did not express the same reservations as Chermak.

Domenick, who has accused the county's current medical provider of rendering substandard care, contends Wellpath is a "different entity all together" than Correct Care Solutions since the 2018 acquisition and merger.

Gibbons, the chairman of the prison board, expressed a similar sentiment, arguing the CNN investigation "dealt with a previous iteration of Wellpath."

Noting allegations made in lawsuits present "only one side of the story," he said it should come as no surprise that prison medical providers are often the subject of litigation.

"If you're going to make a decision based on the fact that somebody's been sued before, I don't know that there is anybody out there who would qualify to do the work," Gibbons said.

Correctional Care, the county's current provider, has been sued multiple times over its 15-year-plus tenure with the county.

He, Domenick and Notarianni noted Wellpath received positive reviews from officials at Luzerne County Correctional Facility, where it most recently served as medical provider since late June.

"I don't think that there's anything more credible when looking for a recommendation than asking someone who is literally using them in their facility," Domenick said.

Correct Care Solutions and later Wellpath initially provided medical services at the Luzerne County facility from 2015 through last year.

Luzerne County Council approved a new contract in late 2019, with another firm, Wexford Health Sources Inc., which began providing medical services at the jail at the beginning of 2020, but in late February exercised its right to terminate its contract as of June 23 after giving the county 120 days' notice. Council then approved a new contract with Wellpath in late April, and Luzerne County Director of Corrections Mark Rockovich said officials have been happy with the firm's performance.

"We were happy with the transition when it became Wellpath," Rockovich said of the firm, noting none of the companies in the industry are perfect. "They reestablished their company."

Domenick and Notarianni also noted a committee of county officials conducted interviews and an extensive review of proposals submitted by firms seeking the Lackawanna County contract before recommending Wellpath.

"Their recommendation goes a long way and I haven't seen anything that would discourage me from approving (Wellpath)," Notarianni said.

Domenick, a member of the review committee, said officials would work closely with Wellpath and hold the firm accountable under the terms of the contract.

"I'm confident in our choice," she said.

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(c)2020 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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