A Troubled Past For Cuyahoga's New Juvenile Jail Medical Provider
An out-of-state for-profit company with a history of lawsuits and a founder who was indicted for bribery is set to take over as the medical services provider at Cuyahoga County’s Juvenile Detention Center on Jan. 1, 2021.
Tennessee-based Wellpath landed the contract after juvenile justice officials had trouble finding local bidders for the contract, which runs two years and costs about $3 million.
Cuyahoga County Council voted to approve the contract at a special meeting Dec. 18, but several members were critical of the last minute timing of the deal — two weeks before the work starts, and at the inability to work out a deal with a local hospital system.
“I’m amazed that we could find ourselves in this position,” said Council President Dan Brady during a public safety committee meeting on Dec. 15 when the contract was first presented to council.
“That our public hospital wasn’t good enough. That we have a problem with University Hospitals. And now we have a willingness to hire a service that has, I would say, some critics,” Brady said.
The new provider was one of three bidders for the contract. Wellpath was created with the merger of Correct Care Solutions, which operated out of the same address as Wellpath’s current headquarters, and the smaller Correctional Medical Group Companies.
Wellpath’s president, Kip Hallman, joined council’s virtual committee meeting to address some members’ concerns, first with the juvenile court’s inability to find a local hospital system to do the work.
“This is very unusual work that we do,” said Hallman. “This is all we do. We do this in 34 states across the country, 15,000 employees. We take care of people who are incarcerated in prisons, jails or psychiatric facilities.”
An investigation by CNN last year focused on Wellpath’s practices under its previous name – Correct Care Solutions (CCS). The investigation unearthed many troubling stories, including a CCS nurse at a prison in Memphis who arrived at work in 2014 to find that one of her colleagues had been stuffing inmate medical requests into a shredder.
In another case at a county jail in Colorado in 2014, a man who was coughing blood was given cough medicine by a CCS doctor, without performing any tests or x-rays. He was found dead the next day.
In a review of federal lawsuits filed in the last five years, CNN found 70 deaths that led to lawsuits against CCS.
Hallman briefly addressed that history during the Dec. 18 council meeting.
“Like any health care provider in any health care facility – Cleveland Clinic, Mayo, makes no difference – there are inevitably situations where there are bad outcomes,” said Hallman. “Now I will say that is almost exclusively with our adult facilities. We have very, very few medical issues in our juvenile facilities just because it’s typically a healthier population.”
According to Hallman, about 93 percent of the lawsuits were dismissed or settled for less than $15,000. He described the people in the facilities where they work as very litigious.
“Every year we would have some very small number of cases where I would look at it, our people would look at it and say, ‘We did not do our best work here.’ And we, like any good health system, we pay for those situations,” said Hallman. “We’re not perfect, but we’re very good at what we do.”
The founder of Correct Care Solutions, Gerard Boyle, was indicted last year by federal authorities in Virginia. He's accused of bribing a sheriff in exchange for jail contracts over the course of 22 years. Boyle is no longer with the company.
County council ultimately approved the contract, after reducing it from three years to two years. Some members preferred a one-year contract but Hallman said the company would not accept that length.
Officials from juvenile court described a challenging bidding process. The initial request for proposals had no bidders. The court approached Cleveland Clinic and MetroHealth and both declined to submit a bid.
Councilmembers pressed court officials on why MetroHealth, the county’s public hospital and medical services provider in the adult jail, did not bid.
“They said, ‘We’re not interested in being in a juvenile detention facility,’” said the court’s fiscal officer Tim Lubbe. “So despite our best efforts to bring them to the table and engage them, they were not interested.”
Officials at MetroHealth declined to comment.
The court approached private providers and requested bids, leading them to Wellpath.
University Hospitals is the current medical provider at the juvenile detention center and bid on this contract. Court officials did not provide many details on why UH was not selected, other than to say that the staff promised by UH under its current contract were not available when they were expected to be available.
County Councilman Michael Gallagher, who helped bring MetroHealth into the adult jail, told council he wasn’t surprised that the juvenile facility is bringing in a private provider.
“Because there are only a certain number of businesses that actually provide these services,” said Gallagher, who added it took a great deal of work for MetroHealth to agree to work in the adult jail and working at a juvenile facility is very different. “So it wouldn’t be as though they could segue from the downtown jail to the juvenile jail in any way easily.”
Wellpath did agree to several conditions that were not included in the UH contract — individual medical staff can be removed at the request of court officials and trips to the emergency room are covered under the contract.