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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Maragos trashes Nassau, vendor over jail health care

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos went to DEFCON 1 earlier this week in his criticism of the county’s contract with its outgoing jail medical care provider.

In an audit, Maragos — who, for years, approved vouchers for the vendor, Armor Correctional Health Services, before deciding to change course — scorched the earth with his criticism of both Armor and the county, which was supposed to be keeping an eye on the vendor.

Still, there may be one silver lining here.

In the future, extensions of similar contracts — such as the one the county approved for Armor in 2015 — will have to be approved by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the state panel overseeing county finances.

NIFA approved the initial Armor contract in 2011, and the first extension in 2013. But Maragos did not send a second extension of the contract to the control board, NIFA member Chris Wright said during a board meeting last week.

Why didn’t Maragos — a Republican turned Democrat who is running for Nassau County executive — send the Armor extension go to NIFA? Because, he said, the county considered it a “penny contract” — that is, one that extended a prior contract — although the agreement was worth up to $5 million to the vendor.

But after some back and forth between NIFA and the county and the comptroller, it was agreed that such contracts in the future would go before the NIFA board.

Would that have made a difference? Maybe, and maybe not, as NIFA habitually approves most of what the county puts before it.

Still, NIFA might have considered concerns voiced by Armor critics in 2015, including a judge and a former head of the Nassau County Bar Association who questioned the quality of care that Armor provided. But state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman stepped into the void with a civil suit against the company that alleged that Nassau paid too much for substandard treatment.

Armor, in settling the AG’s lawsuit a few weeks ago, said it would not seek contracts in New York state for three years, and agreed to a fine.

Nassau, however, has yet to approve a new medical care vendor, although officials said Wednesday that the sheriff’s department is negotiating a contract with a vendor approved by a selection panel.

Whatever comes, Nassau would do well to build a medical care contract that clearly defines who in Nassau is responsible for making sure terms of the agreement are enforced.

And when the pact goes on to NIFA, the authority would do well to keep an eye on performance issues too.


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