by Derek Gilna
In July 2016, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against Armor Correctional Health Services, the medical provider for the jail in Nassau County. The suit alleged a dozen prisoners had died at the facility, in large part due to substandard medical care provided by the company. [See: PLN, May 2017, p.32].
According to the complaint, the Attorney General sought “an order and judgment ... declaring Armor’s practices and conduct violated NY False Claims Act Section 189(1)(a-b) ... [and] declaring that Armor has converted, disposed of, obtained, and/or received public funds without right,” by falsifying payment vouchers and providing inadequate medical care.
The company’s $11 million contract with the county required payment vouchers to include verification that its work had been properly performed, but the lawsuit alleged that Armor “never reduced the amount owed to reflect that its services were not performed consistent with its contractual requirement.”
“Prison inmates rely on companies providing health services for a wide range of medical issues, many of which have gone untreated,” Schneiderman stated. “Those struggling with chronic diseases, mental health and substance abuse problems deserve comprehensive, reliable and high-quality medical care.”
He also noted that “[f]ailing to provide proper health services as required is completely unacceptable. Neglecting the duty to provide adequate care not only defrauds taxpayers, it compromises the health and safety of inmates, with sometimes fatal consequences.”
Prisoner advocates also weighed in. In reference to the Nassau County Jail, Dr. Dean Hart, president of Long Island Citizens for Good Government, said, “It is a horrible scene medically, psychiatrically, psychologically, black mold all over the place; the inmates that got out have described the conditions within.”
The Attorney General’s office argued that Armor had failed to institute proper quality control safeguards and sick call procedures, provide adequate medications, properly diagnose diseases and injuries, maintain adequate staffing, and maintain complete and accurate medical records for prisoners.
With respect to medical records, the complaint alleged a serious and potentially fraudulent breach of contract. “An electronic health record system was never implemented,” the lawsuit stated, “but there [has] been no deduction for the related costs of the system.” The company was paid almost $160,000 to institute an electronic record system but failed to do so.
The predictable result of the inadequate medical care provided by Armor was the deaths of at least fourteen prisoners since 2011, at both the Nassau facility and the Niagara County Jail. According to the New York Commission of Correction’s Medical Review Board, “egregious lapses in medical care” contributed to at least seven of the fourteen deaths.
The Nassau County Board, which hired Armor in 2011 and renewed its contract in 2015 despite numerous complaints against the company, did not escape criticism. The New York American Civil Liberties Union filed suit, noting that since Armor took over the contract for health care at the jail, the “volume of complaints received by the Nassau Chapter office of the NYCLU has increased dramatically.”
The ACLU and other prisoner advocates accused Nassau County of failing to exercise proper oversight over its medical provider, instead relying on the contract’s indemnity agreement to insulate itself from lawsuits and payouts.
The suit filed by the Attorney General settled in October 2016. Armor agreed “not to bid on or enter into any contract with any municipality in New York State for the provision of jail health services” for a three-year period; further, the company agreed to pay $350,000 to the Attorney General’s office. Of that amount, the AG said it would designate $250,000 to Nassau County “as reimbursement related to Armor’s performance of certain contractual obligations to the County....” See: People v. Armor Correctional Health Medical Services, Supreme Court of New York, County of New York, Index No. 450835/2016.
“For-profit jail providers must ensure that appropriate medical care is provided in jails, where many inmates suffer from complex medical needs. When these companies fail to uphold their contractual obligations, they not only defraud taxpayers, the health of inmates, and, by extension, the health of the general population, is jeopardized,” Attorney General Schneiderman said in a statement. “I am pleased that our lawsuit pre-emptively forced changes to the monitoring of Armor’s contract, while ultimately ensuring that the company would not renew its contract with Nassau County. This settlement agreement sends a clear message that companies who fail to provide the required health services to inmates won’t be tolerated in New York State.”
Although Armor notified Nassau County officials that it intended to stop providing medical services at the jail when its contract expired on May 31, 2017, the county said the company was required to stay on until a new healthcare vendor is hired. In an unusual move, Armor filed a lawsuit against Nassau County in March 2017 to extricate itself from the contract.
Sources: www.courthousenews.com, www.newyork.cbslocal.com, www.shadowproof.com, www.nyclu.org, https://ag.ny.gov, www.newsday.com
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Related legal case
People v. Armor Correctional Health Medical Services
|Cite||Supreme Court of New York, County of New York, Index No. 450835/2016|
|Level||State Trial Court|