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After Spate of Deaths, Vermont Contracts Prisoner Healthcare to Wellpath – Again

Vermont’s Department of Corrections (DOC) announced in April 2023 that Wellpath LLC would replace VitalCore Health Strategies to provide healthcare in state prisons. Wellpath corporate predecessor Correct Care Solutions (CCS) held the contract from 2010 to 2015. Then Centurion took over until 2018, after which CCS/Wellpath returned, only to be replaced in 2020 with VitalCore. The latest spin on this merry-go-round is costing DOC, too; its new $33,799,902 annual contract with Wellpath is $13 million more than the state was paying VitalCore.

The last time the state dropped CCS/Wellpath, the firm was blamed for the 2018 death of prisoner Andrew Leighton, 51, whose fatal asthma and sepsis was treated by medical staffers with nothing more than antibiotics and ibuprofen, as PLN reported. [See: PLN, Mar. 2022, p.1.]

So why is the state going back to the healthcare profiteer yet again?

Perhaps because so many prisoners are dying that it has to do something. Just before DOC announced the new contract, on March 14, 2023, Alexander Kelley, 34, was found unresponsive in his cell at Southern State Correctional Facility. A half-hour later, after lifesaving efforts failed, he was pronounced dead. State police said that “Kelley’s health was being monitored,” but no reason was given. Yet the death was “not considered suspicious.”

Kelley had been in custody for 13 days, held in a post-intake area separate from the prison’s general population. His death followed eight others in the year prior at the prison.

On February 22, 2023, Raymond Gadreault, 73, died of natural causes.

On April 28, 2022, Matthew Castellini, 35, died by suicide.

On May 17, 2022, David Goldstein, 56, died after he was found in medical distress.

On August 29, 2022, Ronald Roy, 71, was found unresponsive and died.

On October 25, 2022, Dan Griswold, 67, was found unresponsive and died.

On November 30, 2022, Charles Mould, 74, was found unresponsive and died.

On January 1, 2023, Henry Butson, 74, had difficulty breathing and died in a hospital.

On January 17, 2023, Shawn Gero, 29, died by suicide.

Days after Kelley died, Romeo Reome III, 53, was found unresponsive and died on March 22, 2023. State police said he had numerous health problems. The next month, Anthony Giallella, 85, died while receiving end-of-life treatment on April 7, 2023, followed by David Mitchell, 46, who had breathing problems and died on April 17, 2023.

As the death toll rose at the prison, Superintendent Mike Lyons was placed on administrative leave. But after an investigation into a claim of alleged misconduct – not linked to the prisoner deaths – Lyons was reinstated.

For DOC Commissioner Nicholas Deml, a dozen deaths in 15 months at one prison simply reflected “a demographic shift” in Vermont’s prisoners. “Folks are getting older and they’re getting sicker when they come into the facilities,” he said – and the Springfield prison tends to house older and more medically vulnerable prisoners.

So why rehire CCS/Wellpath? Deml gave that question a rhetorical shrug, noting that there simply aren’t that many players in the prison healthcare arena. Tellingly, he also admitted it would cost vastly more than what DOC is paying Wellpath to bring healthcare in house – more like $80 to $100 million a year, rather than $33 million.

Perhaps he hasn’t heard the adage, “You get what you pay for.”  

Sources: WPTZ, Vermont Digger, Vermont Public Radio

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