A Tennessee-based health care provider for Arkansas' adult prisoners is supplying medical, dental and mental health services to children detained at state-run youth lockups starting this month.
Correct Care Solutions LLC was awarded a yearlong $3.6 million contract with the Division of Youth Services in May, state records show. Correct Care currently has a $58 million contract for fiscal 2018 with the Arkansas Department of Correction.
Correct Care is named in dozens of federal lawsuits around the country that accuse the provider of denying adult and juvenile inmates treatment for various maladies. A Correct Care representative declined to comment, citing company policy about not discussing ongoing lawsuits.
At a legislative committee meeting last month, more than a dozen relatives and friends of Arkansas inmates voiced concerns about prisoners receiving sub-par care.
Amy Webb, a spokesman for the youth agency, said Correct Care seems well-prepared.
"They have been able to hire a lot of statewide medical staff that had previously worked at our facilities," Webb said. "The trainings they have done for our staff have been good quality."
Headquartered in Nashville, Correct Care began its work Sunday at eight juvenile treatment centers, seven of which are overseen by the Youth Services Division. A total of about 370 children can be housed at the facilities, which are located in Alexander, Colt, Dermott, Harrisburg, Lewisville and Mansfield.
Under the new contract, Correct Care will provide licensed nurses at each youth jail for 16 hours every day. Only one facility, the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center near Alexander, will get a psychiatrist and social workers. Doctors or nurse practitioners will be on-call and will provide health care via telecommunications.
The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences had been the health care provider at the juvenile jails, offering dental, mental, behavioral and general medical services to detained youths since May 2016.
The annual UAMS contract first cost nearly $3 million, according to the 2016 agreement. In the past 12-month period, UAMS was authorized to spend up to $4.8 million, procurement records show.
UAMS announced that it wouldn't renew its contract in April, about 10 weeks before the contract expired at the end of June.
Officials said then there wasn't enough time to find a new health care provider through the competitive bidding process, which often is required for a public contract exceeding $50,000. Instead, the Department of Finance and Administration's Office of State Procurement pursued a "special procurement," allowing the youth agency to hire Correct Care almost immediately.
The Human Services Department will "not have adequate time ... causing gaps in these health care services for juveniles," Edward Armstrong, director of the procurement office, wrote in a memo dated May 17.
The memo stated that the department chose Correct Care because of its experience in juvenile justice work and ability to facilitate rapid transitions.
Andrea Peel, a university spokesman, said Youth Services Division administrators began to make additional requests that fell outside the original contract -- requests that "we were not able to support and that made both retention of existing staff and future staffing difficult," she said.
Disagreement about these additional requests included passing out medications to youths, Webb said.
"We had either other entities or trained staff handling that duty," Webb said. "We felt that service was within the scope of the existing contract and that we had available contract funds to cover this."
Webb added that the youth agency respected UAMS' decision and expects a smooth transition.
"UAMS staff did a great job," she said. "We believe we have a new vendor that will be able to carry on the quality of work done by UAMS staff."
The Youth Services Division took over operation of seven juvenile treatment centers in January 2017. Before that, Arkansas-based nonprofit providers ran the facilities.
Medical services for locked-up youths were not covered this way in the past -- meaning health care was not carried out through a large separate entity. Instead, the nonprofit facility operators would take youths to medical providers nearby who charged the nonprofits the Medicaid rate. The division would then reimburse the nonprofits, after they submitted detailed invoices.
The UAMS staff, however, did conduct medical exams on youths before they were placed at juvenile treatment centers.
Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he was concerned about the quality of medical services offered by Correct Care.
Hammer also said he was unsettled by lawsuits filed against the provider in other places.
In March, for instance, the ACLU of Maine sued Correct Care for exhibiting "deliberate indifference" to the medical needs of an 11-year-old being held at the state's only juvenile detention center. The lawsuit says doctors failed to give the boy medication, despite a known attention deficit hyperactivity disorder diagnosis, and a dentist refused to fix the boy's teeth, broken after guards slammed his face into a metal bed frame.
At the same site, a transgender 16-year-old ended his life while on suicide watch in 2016. Facility staff members had ignored several requests from the teen's mother that the youth receive mental health treatment, according to the ACLU suit.
Correct Care also faces lawsuits over six deaths in Colorado jails and others in Washington state, The Associated Press reported in May. At least two settlements were reached last year in claims involving the deaths of North Carolina inmates who, attorneys argued, didn't receive needed prescription medications.
Hammer is a member of the Charitable, Penal and Correctional Institutions Subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council. In June, the panel listened to more than a dozen testimonies shared by families and friends of inmates who said Correct Care's services fell short.
Since that meeting, Hammer has requested more information from the Department of Correction regarding how the provider is caring for adult prisoners. He hopes to get answers within a month.
"If we're going to pop the lid on this thing, we need to look at all of it, including the juvenile system program," he said. "You're dealing with a different population and different circumstances, but that doesn't excuse us from providing them no better or no less care than someone in the free world."
SundayMonday on 07/02/2018
Print Headline: Firm takes over youths' jail care; Provider of medical services for state named in past suits