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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Mangano should end health care contract for Nassau jail

An aerial view of the Nassau County jail

An aerial view of the Nassau County jail in East Meadow is shown from Monday, April 4, 2011. Credit: Kevin P Coughlin

The state Commission of Correction, in a report criticizing the medical care given an inmate in the Nassau jail, instructed the county legislature to conduct an inquiry into the contractor who provides the service.

The commission didn't stop there. It requested that lawmakers delve into Armor Correctional Health Services Inc.'s fitness to provide care; its "pattern of failing to properly manage patients' chronic medical needs;" a failure to maintain proper and organized patient records; and failure to "provide hospitalization for patients when clinically indicated."

In short, the state gave local lawmakers the job of discovering, first hand, deficiencies the commission found in its probe into the 2014 death of inmate John Gleeson of Oceanside. The commission also found what it called a pattern of negligent care at other New York facilities where Armor has contracts.

County Executive Edward Mangano doesn't have to wait for lawmakers to act, however. He has the authority to immediately suspend, or better, outright end Nassau's association with Armor.

And he should. On Wednesday, Mangano said he likely will have a report from the county attorney outlining Nassau's options with respect to handling the contract by next week.

"We consider this a tragedy," he said in an interview. He noted that early on he spoke with the family of Gleeson, a 40-year-old father of two, whose death could have been prevented if not for "incompetent and deficient" medical treatment, according to the commission report. Gleeson, who suffered from angioedema, a condition in which bouts of swelling can escalate into breathing emergencies, had pleaded not guilty to a charge of burglary on the day he died.

Mangano also said Armor has indicated to County Attorney Carnell Foskey's office the company does not agree with the report. The company says while a privacy law prevents it from discussing specific cases, it has a record of quality health care for more than 40,000 inmates in eight states.

The Republican-majority Rules Committee approved Armor's first contract in 2011, over the objections of Democratic Legis. Wayne Wink. "It seems to me that when you are talking about tens of millions of dollars, it certainly sounds as if it is a contract that would warrant approval by the whole legislature," said Wink, now North Hempstead Town clerk.

The committee renewed the contract in June 2013, and again this past June 1. At that meeting, Democrats cited a Newsday story by Bridget Murphy that detailed complaints about Armor's medical care by a judge, the New York Civil Liberties Union and a former president of Nassau's bar association.

The renewal passed after a sheriff's department official acknowledged the existing contract had expired a day earlier.

With its approval, lawmakers essentially handed Armor a no-bid contract, after a sheriff's department official testified the department had run "out of time" for developing a new request for proposals, and that renewal was the only option for uninterrupted inmate health care. Which of course isn't accurate since Nassau could, as before, have sought to make a short-term, emergency arrangement with Armor or another vendor.

Since mid-2011, Nassau County has paid Armor almost $43 million. And sheriff's department officials often note that since the company assumed responsibility for care, inmate grievances have been cut in half.

OK. But fewer grievances don't mean good medical care -- as the commission's report, in sometimes frightening detail, makes clear.

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