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Company hired to provide healthcare at DeKalb Jail was convicted in death of Wisconsin inmate

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Company hired to provide healthcare at DeKalb Jail was convicted in death of Wisconsin inmate

DeKalb County Jail. Photo by Dean Hesse.

DeKalb County, GA — A new contractor began providing healthcare to DeKalb Jail inmates on June 1, replacing the contractor that was in charge in 2022 when the DeKalb County Jail had the most inmate deaths in a decade.

But that new contractor, Armor Health, has faced litigation, investigations, and in one case a criminal conviction over deaths that have occurred in the numerous facilities where the company has a contract, Decaturish has learned.

An Armor Health spokesperson said the company does not comment on pending litigation and the company did not directly respond when asked about the 2022 criminal conviction in Wisconsin. But the company, which has contracts at 52 facilities in 10 states, defended its record and its ability to provide adequate healthcare to DeKalb County Jail inmates.

“For the last 20 years, Armor Health has partnered with facilities to improve health care outcomes, provide ongoing support for patients, and foster the wellness and wellbeing of the populations we serve,” Armor Health COO Manuel Fernandez said in an email. “Our team of clinicians are focused on clinical outcomes and best in class interventions through our proprietary insight analytics that prioritize care for the patient populations we serve. We are proud of the work we have done and care we have provided and are proud to continue to partner with and work in many counties, cities and states across the country.”

DeKalb County Sheriff Melody Maddox did not respond to a request for comment about Armor Health’s record and whether officials at the Sheriff’s Office were aware of it before hiring the company. Maddox has declined repeated requests for an interview about the 2022 jail deaths.

According to records provided by the Sheriff’s Office in response to an Open Records Request, Armor Health has a contract for five years worth more than $90 million, with $17 million owed to the company in the first year. The previous contractor, Wellpath, had been with the jail since at least 2011 when it was known as Correct Care Solutions. Records provided by the Sheriff’s Office show that in early 2022, the DeKalb Sheriff amended its contract with Wellpath and agreed to pay the company $10 million between Feb. 1, 2022 and Jan. 31, 2023. In March 2023, an attorney for the Sheriff’s Office notified Wellpath that the sheriff was terminating its contract as of May 31, 2023. The attorney did not provide a reason.

Like Armor, Wellpath faced numerous lawsuits over its handling of inmate care and is a named defendant in a lawsuit filed by the family of Anthony Walker, an inmate who froze to death in the jail.

The first inmate death at the DeKalb Jail in 2023 occurred on May 29, days before Armor was set to take over care. Officials believe the inmate’s death was a suicide.

Decaturish recently published a lengthy investigative story about deaths at the jail in 2022, the deadliest year in a decade. Wellpath oversaw healthcare at the jail in 2022, but mental health was provided by Centurion, a different contractor. Several of the inmates who died in 2022 had a history of mental illness, records show.

Armor will be handling both medical and mental health services at the jail, according to a press release from the Sheriff’s Office.

In October 2022, Armor was found “criminally guilty” in the 2016 death of an inmate who died due to dehydration, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“Miami-based Armor Correctional Health Services Inc. was charged in 2018 with abuse of residents of a penal facility, a felony, and seven counts of falsifying health records, all misdemeanors,” the Sentinel reported. “The case finally went to trial Sept. 27, and a jury returned the guilty verdicts late Tuesday, after about a day’s deliberations.”

The district attorney in Milwaukee acknowledged that prosecuting a corporation is rare but said, “Such a prosecution is justified in particularly egregious circumstances.”

Armor planned to appeal the guilty verdict.

To read the full story from the Sentinel, click here.

There have been dozens of lawsuits against Armor, and a quick Google search reveals numerous news articles about the company. On June 2, WJCT News in Jacksonville, Fla., reported that the state of Florida opened an investigation into Armor, which is providing medical services for the Duval County Jail. Armor is facing accusations from the family of an inmate who was a heart transplant recipient. The family alleges the inmate died after Armor failed to provide him with anti-rejection medications while he was in the Duval County Jail for two days.

Florida opened its investigation after a journalist asked why Armor was not on the state’s convicted vendor list due to its October 2022 conviction in Milwaukee.

“Florida law prohibits public agencies from signing contracts with companies that have been convicted of a public entity crime,” WJCT News reported. “The city of Jacksonville renewed its contract with the company in November 2022. The original contract was signed in October 2017.”

To read the full story from WJCT, click here.

Outsourcing medical care to inmates has become commonplace among jails in the United States.

A Reuters investigation in 2020 found that outsourcing jail medical care to private companies has led to more inmate deaths. It found that the market for private prison healthcare is controlled by five companies that include Wellpath and Armor Health.

Here’s the key finding from the Reuters story:

A Reuters review of deaths in more than 500 jails found that, from 2016 to 2018, those relying on one of the five leading jail healthcare contractors had higher death rates than facilities where medical services are run by government agencies. The analysis assessed deaths from illness and medical conditions, suicide, and the acute effects of drugs and alcohol.

Jails with publicly managed medical services, usually run by the sheriff’s office or local health department, had an average of 12.8 deaths per 10,000 inmates in that time. Jails with healthcare provided by one of the five companies had an additional 2.3 to 7.4 annual deaths per 10,000 inmates. The death rates were 18% to 58% higher, depending upon the company.

Reuters found that in 2018, 62% of U.S. jails outsourced healthcare to private contractors. To read the full Reuters investigation into private contractors providing healthcare at jails, click here.

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