New Orleans to renew contract with jail's private health care provider

In the years that followed Wellpath’s arrival in New Orleans, the quality of medical care at the lockup has come under fire in several wrongful-death lawsuits


Matt Sledge
The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

NEW ORLEANS — Despite some controversy over the firm's performance, New Orleans has decided to renew its contract with the company that provides health care services for inmates at the city's jail, potentially ending a year-long period when the company’s future at the facility was up in the air.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s office said the city recently agreed to a 90-day contract extension with the health care contractor Wellpath, formerly known as Correct Care Solutions, with an eye toward signing a “long-term” deal.

The latest extension follows two other short-term renewals that Wellpath received for its $15 million-a-year contract since Cantrell took office in May 2018.

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman first brought Wellpath in to manage health care at the jail in 2014, prompting a legal battle with then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration over who had the final say over the health care contract. Gusman ultimately agreed to let the city take charge.

In the years that followed Wellpath’s arrival in New Orleans, the quality of medical care at the lockup has come under fire in several wrongful-death lawsuits and during the jail’s long-running reform process.

Even after the opening of a new jail in 2015, monitors said inmates frequently missed receiving medications and the contractor lacked steady leadership in New Orleans. Mental health care was also faulted.

This month, the children of a woman who died while detoxing at the jail last year sued Gusman and the company, alleging that nurses and jail guards ignored her signs of distress and cries for help.

The city essentially put Wellpath on notice when it signed a nine-month extension of the company’s contract in September. A spokesman said then that the city would use the time to evaluate whether to keep using Wellpath’s services.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, who oversees the jail’s reform agreement with the federal government and inmates' legal advocates, said he was watching closely to see whether health care at the lockup improved.

The intensive focus on health care produced results, according to testimony one of Africk’s monitors gave earlier this month. Prison health care expert Dr. Robert Greifinger said he saw “substantial and measurable improvement” during his most recent tour of the facility.

A spokesman for Cantrell said the Sheriff’s Office had likewise given Wellpath passing marks in recent discussions.

"After consulting with the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office on the performance of Wellpath (formerly CCS) during the current contract period, we have jointly agreed to extend their contract,” spokesman Trey Caruso said.

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©2019 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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