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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Key questions loom on Nassau’s handling of jail health care

Barbed wire surrounds the Nassau County Jail in

Barbed wire surrounds the Nassau County Jail in East Meadow on March 2, 2012. Credit: Ed Betz

The state attorney general’s office, in a lawsuit filed Monday, alleged that Armor Correctional Health Care Services denied Nassau jail inmates care and defrauded county taxpayers by submitting false claims — right under the noses of county officials.

“Since Nassau County has not initiated a civil suit, and has not indicated any willingness to enforce the contract’s terms . . . [The AG’s office] brings this action to protect the county from the false and fraudulent claims being submitted by Armor for payment,” according to a supporting memorandum of law.

That’s just a portion of the stinging assessment of Nassau’s handling of the contract the AG gleaned from 137 pages of documents filed in the lawsuit.

Some damaging information is in footnotes, including that Nassau, which brought on Armor in mid-2011, initially had a county employee act as a contract monitor.

But that position became vacant in 2013, when Nassau extended Armor’s contract for two years. The county extended the contract again in 2015, despite complaints about the quality of health care services at the jail.

And those extensions? Another footnote, in Assistant Attorney General Dorothea Caldwell-Brown’s affirmation, states that Armor’s contract was exempt from Nassau’s bidding procedures by reason of emergency.

Wait, what? Another Nassau no-bid contract?

Under the county charter, such contracts passed as emergencies are limited to two extensions — of one year each, the document notes.

But Nassau lawmakers, at County Executive Edward Mangano’s request, approved two extensions, for two years each.

On Tuesday, Nassau, which has addressed the lawsuit only via statements issued through the County Attorney Carnell Foskey’s office, said it — finally — would place a medical care monitor in the jail.

Which is what Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s office already was seeking in the lawsuit — along with an order banning Armor from bidding on any future jail medical contracts in New York State, financial penalties, and a judgment saying the company illegally took public funds.

Armor spokeswoman Teresa Estfan told Newsday in a statement that the company hadn’t had time to review the complaint, “but any allegation that Armor has failed to provide quality correctional medical care at the facility is simply false” and the company “intends to vigorously defend” against the lawsuit.

Whatever the result of the lawsuit, key questions loom about why Nassau renewed the contract; why it failed to aggressively monitor it; and how it paid tens of millions of dollars based on what the AG alleged were false claims submitted without documentation.

How could Nassau not know that, according to the documents, sick call slips — which are dropped into a collection box to request care — were not picked up for “many days” in 2015 because the box key was missing? The contractually obligated positions, such as director of nursing and mental health clinical coordinator, were left vacant? Some of them for years?

“Armor’s own documents leave no doubt that it sought payment for services that it either did not perform or performed insufficiently,” according to the memorandum of law.

And Nassau paid.

Even as the state commisson on correction — and a judge and a former head of the Nassau County bar — questioned the quality of Armor’s services.

And paid.

Even as some of the families of the 12 inmates who have died since 2011 filed suit against the county.

And paid.

More than $50 million.

On a contract that was supposed to save Nassau’s taxpayers money.

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