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Florida prison medical service providers have troubling history

Florida's Department of Corrections has hired two companies that have troubling histories of medical malpractice to provide health care services to prisoners throughout the state. These companies won contracts at least in part for their ability to help the state in its goal to bring down the medical costs of caring for its inmates by seven percent in the newly-privatized system implemented under Governor Rick Scott and state legislators.

Tennessee-based Corizon (previously called Prison Health Services) was awarded a five-year contract for $1.2 billion to provide care to state prisoners in 41 facilities in the northern and central parts of the state beginning this past August. The company has been sued 660 times over the last five years. Almost half of the cases are still pending. Approximately a quarter of the closed cases have confidential settlements.

The other contractor, Wexford Health Sources, was awarded a $240 million contract late last year to serve nine state correctional facilities in South Florida. The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based company had nearly 1,100 malpractice claims (although not all of them resulting in lawsuits) between 2008 and 2012. It has settled 34 cases for a total payout of $5.4 million, and was ordered by a jury to pay over a quarter million dollars in another case.

Although the companies bidding for these lucrative Florida contracts were never required to disclose their malpractice suit history, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections contends that they were fully vetted. The companies' litigation histories, which are public record, were obtained and reported by a non-profit online newspaper, Browardbulldog.com.

The performance and practices of both companies have been the subject of government and media scrutiny for years in a multitude of states, including Florida. Some of the problems involved business practices. However, over 10 years ago, the Florida Correctional Medical Authority issued a reprimand to Wexford for its health care after two inmates died. Corizon was fined $382,000 by the State of Idaho for providing poor health care. These are just two examples.

Whether the State of Florida, and by extension, its taxpayers, end up saving money with these two health care providers remains to be seen. Their troubling histories indicate that they could indeed end up costing more than they are saving, not to mention endangering the lives of men and women in the Florida prison system.

Source: Miami Herald, "Florida prison healthcare providers sued hundreds of times" Dan Christensen, Oct. 02, 2013

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