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Outraged Over Inmate Mental Health Care, Prison Chief Ends Private Provider's Contract

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Credit Wexford Health Sources Inc. website
The Florida Channel

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones says she’s outraged over the inadequate mental health care services offered at a facility operated by one of Florida’s private prison health care providers. So, she terminated that contract with Wexford Health Sources Wednesday.

The Correctional Medical Authority provides oversight for the state's prison medical services. And, on Tuesday, it found deficiencies in the South Florida Reception Center’s in-patient mental health unit.

According to the termination letter to Wexford drafted by Prison Chief Jones, the conditions were found to be “life threatening and serious.”

It included a situation where an inmate, who threatened to hang himself, was automatically placed in restraints for more than seven hours—instead of being placed on a less restrictive status known as “Self-Harm Observation status.”

She also says her agency has also found Wexford Health to have “numerous deficiencies” in its ability to provide adequate mental health care services to inmates. Wexford provides inmate health care services to more than 15,000 inmates at 10 correctional facilities.

Wexford officials say not only do they disagree with the findings, they’re “shocked and disturbed” by the termination, especially after Jones gave them a positive performance review less than a week ago.

For now, a Department of Corrections spokeswoman says they’re working to have a smooth transition of services over the next 120 days as they look to contract with someone else.

Below is statement provided by Florida Department of Corrections Spokeswoman Ashley Cook:

Yesterday, Secretary Julie Jones sent a letter to Wexford Health Sources, notifying it that the Department is exercising its contractual authority to terminate the contract with Wexford at will. Secretary Jones is absolutely outraged at Wexford’s lack of performance and delivery of services as detailed in the Correctional Medical Authority’s notification issued April 18, 2017. The Department has been committed to meaningful health care reforms and takes the issues detailed in the CMA’s notification extremely seriously. Following this medical emergency notification, the Department immediately deployed a Mental Health Ombudsman and Behavioral Health Risk Management Team to review all inmate mental health needs handled by Wexford at South Florida Reception Center.

Below is Wexford Health Sources full statement:

Wexford Health Sources was shocked and disturbed this afternoon when we received notice from the FL Department of Corrections that it is terminating our contract to provide health care for DOC inmates in South Florida. The notice is particularly surprising as it comes shortly after the Department formally asked us to extend our contract for another year; less than a week after we received compliments from DOC Secretary Julie Jones on our performance and partnership; and in the midst of ongoing negotiations to which the DOC invited Wexford Health as part of its procurement process for future health care contracts. While we have not yet had a chance to respond to the notice, Wexford Health strongly disagrees not only with the Department’s actions but also with the findings on which the Department based its decision.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner .

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