Virginia Supreme Court clears way to end private health care in state-run prisons

Throughout their partnership with a private healthcare provider, VADOC has faced criticism over the quality of health services


By Lyndon German
The Virginian-Pilot
        
RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Department of Corrections is a step closer to independently operating its own health care services for inmates after a ruling by the Supreme Court of Virginia.

The court rejected a last-ditch effort by Miami-based health care provider Armor Correctional Health Services to keep its contract providing private health care services in state-run facilities. Richmond Circuit Court Judge Phillip Hairston on Friday denied a preliminary injunction sought by Armor and found VADOC did not act “arbitrarily and capriciously” in terminating the contract with Armor. The company petitioned the high court for review and on Saturday the Supreme Court denied that request.

The decision frees the department to contract with an interim health care provider while the state prepares to provide services to the nearly 25,000 inmates in state custody. Department-employed staff already provide services in half the state-run facilities.

A cell door stands open in a housing pod where many inmates with mental illness are kept at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth, seen in 2018.
A cell door stands open in a housing pod where many inmates with mental illness are kept at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth, seen in 2018. (Alex Driehaus/The Virginian-Pilot)

The state began working with Armor Correction Health in 2014 and paid the company approximately $90 million annually for services, said Benjamin Jarvela, VADOC’s director of communications.

Throughout their partnership, VADOC has faced criticism over the quality of health services provided in state facilities. One report issued by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission in 2018, cited that facilities run by Armor could potentially expose the state to several lawsuits.

One instance includes a finding by a federal judge that Fluvanna Correctional Center — a facility which houses hundreds of women from Hampton Roads — was in violation of a federal court order mandating basic medical care.

Since that time, the state installed Dr. Paul Targonski from University of Virginia’s health system as Fluvanna’s health director. As of last year, state officials said conditions had improved at the facility, but the federal judge raised concern that the state had not implemented all the necessary changes.

Armor Correctional Health had asked the Supreme Court of Virginia to maintain their contract. But Judge Hairston ruled that Armor did not meet any of the factors necessary to grant a temporary injunction that would have required the state to keep the contract in place.

VADOC can now proceed with a new contract with VitalCore Health Strategies. VitalCore’s contract will last two years and will cost the same as Armor’s, Jarvela said.

The contract with VitalCore began on Sunday. At the end of a two-year period, VADOC will assume full responsibility for the delivery of healthcare services in all their facilities.

VADOC Director Harold Clarke said the decision is “a victory for the quality of healthcare in our facilities.”

“Our goal has always been to provide the constitutionally-mandated level of healthcare in our facilities and this transition will ensure that we are able to continue to do so in the future,” he said in a statement.

©2021 The Virginian-Pilot.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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