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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Nassau County bears responsibility for jail health care problems

This aerial view shows the Nassau County Jail

This aerial view shows the Nassau County Jail in East Meadow. Photo Credit: FlyingDogPhotos.com / Kevin P. Coughlin

All’s well that ends well?

Not by a long shot when it comes to Nassau County’s handling of a contract with its jail health care provider.

For the past few weeks, the spotlight was on Armor Correctional Health Services about whether the private company would stay on to the end of its contract.

Looks like it will.

Then there was Armor’s deal with State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The company agreed to pay a fine — some of which will go to Nassau — and not to bid on contracts for jail medical service in New York State.

Less attention has been paid to Nassau, and how the county ignored warning after warning about the jail vendor.

Three times, the state Commission of Correction asked Nassau to look into the quality of health care provided by Armor.

The first request, to County Executive Edward Mangano, came in 2012. The commission, which investigates inmate deaths, had concluded that Armor provided “grossly incompetent care,” including by failing to hospitalize inmate Roy Nordstrom “chest pain complaints.” Nordstrom, 47, died in 2011.

The second request, in 2015, went to the county legislature, run by a Republican majority, after the 2015 deaths of Kevin Brown, 47, and John Gleeson, 40. The commission asked for a legislative inquiry in declaring that Armor had “engaged in a pattern of inadequate and neglectful medical care.”

In June, the legislature received the commission’s third request for an inquiry after the 2015 death of Antonio Marinaccio, who was 53.

The county’s response?

Mangano has said he relied on reports about Armor’s performance from his appointee, Sheriff Michael Sposato. The sheriff, according to reporting by Newsday’s Bridget Murphy, wrote letters to the commission defending Armor in three of the five cases where the state criticized the quality of medical care.

In two others, Sposato expressed no opinion, although at one point he questioned the commission’s authority to request that the legislature investigate the vendor.

As for the legislature?

A spokesman for Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said last month that its investigation is ongoing.

There have been 12 inmate deaths since mid-2011. That was when Nassau — in a move to cut costs, including overtime for corrections officers accompanying inmates to Nassau University Medical Center, the former medical care provider — awarded a contract to Armor. Despite criticism from the state, and from others, Nassau extended the contract twice more.

Neither lawmakers nor Mangano in all of that time found reason to question what was happening at the jail, even as Armor continued asserting that it was providing quality care.

The county’s inattention is made worse by revelations included in the AG’s lawsuit against Armor, which include a deposition from an Armor official who acknowledged that the vendor did not fully comply with the terms of its contract.

The official also said the company did not submit monthly performance statistics reflecting monthly benchmarks — because, she said, sheriff’s department employees told Armor it didn’t have to.

All of which makes Nassau’s oversight of its vendor a failure — so much so that it’s fair to ask why Sposato still has a job.

There have been six inmate deaths this year alone; and the state commission has yet to release reports on five of them.

But as the county — Mangano and lawmakers alike — consider a new vendor for jail medical care, they need to look at quality, as well as cost.

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