Fulton to extend jail health care contract over objections

Fulton County commissioners voted Wednesday to extend the health care contract at the jail for one year, over the objections of the sheriff's office, who said the company's performance was inadequate.

The county’s chief jailer, Mark Adger, said the sheriff could not be compelled to sign a contract extension for the current provider, Corizon Health. He said Sheriff Theodore Jackson might go to court to get an injunction stopping Corizon from providing health care at the jail. The sheriff said through a spokeswoman that he was “exploring his options.”

“We may not have any medical care for the inmates of the jail,” Adger said.

Already, he said, the uncertainty has had an impact, and the jail’s medical director has left.

The county is required to provide health care for inmates, so it is likely that some compromise will be reached. But commissioners said they felt forced to make a decision on health care before the current contract expires Dec. 31.

“Unfortunately, we’re up against a wall,” Commissioner Bob Ellis said.

Commissioners last month rejected a new contract from another health care provider, NaphCare, that was rated more highly than Corizon. They balked at the $17.8 million price tag. Corizon filed a protest with the county last week to prevent them from reconsidering that contract. According to the company “It would be highly irregular, and possibly illegal, for the (county) to vote again on the same proposed award that it rejected on November 4.”

But the sheriff’s office had complaints about Corizon, which it blamed for the fact that the Fulton County jail lost accreditation last year.

The blame, Ellis said, should be shared. Some of the issues that caused the loss of accreditation are a result of deficiencies with the sheriff’s office, not Corizon. The sheriff was accused of not having enough personnel to transport inmates to medical appointments in a safe and timely manner.

“The accreditation piece is a two-sided street,” he said. “It wasn’t all the provider.”

Commissioner Marvin Arrington, who voted against the $16.2 million Corizon extension, said he was worried about the standard of care at the jail.

Commissioners want to change the way they deal with criminal justice, including by diverting homeless and mentally ill people from entering the system before they are arrested. They wanted to change the way health care at the jail works, as part of the new system, but did not have time to do so before a new contract had to be in place.

As part of the contract extension, they voted to spend $49,070 to study the existing model in order to facilitate creation of a new system by 2017.

“It’s imperative that we redesign our program,” Vice Chairman Liz Hausmann said.