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Privatized Medical Services Entangle Florida Sheriff in Litigation and Raises Costs

Proponents of privatization of prison services tout it as a way to not only save governmental entities money, but to remove them from legal entanglement. Officials in Florida?s Sarasota County Sheriff?s Office (SCSO) are not realizing those supposed benefits for its medical care contract.

Since 2002, the SCSO had had a contract with Prison Health Services (PHS) to provide medical services to prisoners in its jail. That contract was worth $2.4 million yearly. With the contract expiring on October 1, 2007, Sheriff Bill Balkwill decided to solicit bids in May 2007 rather than negotiate an extension with PHS. He was expecting bids to be about $2.5 million, which was the amount set aside in SCSO?s budget.

When the bids were opened in June, SCSO officials were taken aback. ?We were in sticker shock,? said Major Skip Rossi, SCSO?s finance director. All the bids were over $3 million.

PHS? bid was $738,138 over budget. Armor Correctional Services was $831,234 over budget, and a third bidder was $1.3 million higher. The three year bid from Amor was lower than PHS? bid. Four days after the bids were unsealed, it was recommended all bids be rejected and it was suggested by SCSO?s consultant, Phil Hoelscher, that PHS may be willing to extend its contract for one year at a ten percent increase, or $2.68 million.

Negotiations with PHS made it quickly apparent that any extension was going to cost more than $3 million yearly. Balkwill then began negotiating with Armor. To take over SCSO?s prisoner medical care responsibilities, Armor wanted $3.032 million. That bid was $11,000 cheaper than PHS. Amor was awarded the bid effective October 1, 2007.

PLN readers will recall Armor is owned by a former director of Correctional Medical Services, who lost numerous contracts due to inept care. Armor, it is claimed, was created to pick up those contracts. It was further reported that Armor was giving kick-backs to Broward County Sheriff Kenneth Jenne, to hold that county?s jail medical contract.
Jenne also lobbied with other Sheriff?s to contract with Armor. Jenne has since been convicted of corruption charges related to kickbacks from other companies and been sentenced to prison.

The $600,000 yearly increase in prisoner medical caused SCSO to find a scapegoat for the increase. SCSO blamed Hoelscher for providing misleading information. ?I explicitly told him I thought he was an agent for PHS,? said Rossi.

Hoelscher called that allegation ?ludicrous.? In 20 years, I?ve been thrown under the bus by my client,? he said. Hoelscher?s contract, which ended September 30, 2007, was not renewed.

Meanwhile, PHS has sued the SCSO for allegedly violating county policy by awarding such a large non-bid contract. By going with Armor, the SCSO saved $148,000 over three years. Considering the costs of litigation, privatization will not only eat up that savings, but it entangles the SCSO in litigation. So much for what privatization proponents espouse.

Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune

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