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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Nassau jail health care provider issues unusual ultimatum

Nassau County Jail in East Meadow is seen

Nassau County Jail in East Meadow is seen in an aerial view on June 20, 2016. Credit: Flying Dog Photos / Kevin P. Coughlin

Nassau’s medical-care provider for inmates at the county jail sent county officials an unusual ultimatum last week.

Muzzle yourselves.

Pay us more money.

Suspend the use of performance indicators.

Pay up quicker.

And, hey, let’s switch things up so that Nassau — instead of the vendor, Armor Correctional Services — assumes responsibility for legal claims until the vendor-county partnership comes to a close.

Or else, Armor said in the letter, we’re out.

Should the company carry through on its threat to walk away from its contract, which expires in May, inmates at the jail in Mineola would be left with no health care provider until Nassau reached agreement with a new vendor.

Which would leave Nassau in a pinch, because, under a variety of laws, there are supposed to be no gaps in health care coverage for inmates — whose health and welfare are the county’s responsibility.

Although Nassau, for months now, has been screening proposals from would-be replacements for Armor, Mangano, after selecting a new vendor, would still need approval from the county legislature and the county’s financial control board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority.

On Friday, the county announced that it had begun negotiations with a Tennessee-based company, New York Correct Care Solutions Medical Services, to replace Armor.

And the county’s response to Armor’s letter, which said it would continue working at the jail after Oct. 7 — if Armor received “assurances” that the new conditions would be met?

“There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that we’re doing it,” County Executive Edward Mangano said in an interview Friday afternoon.

Carnell Foskey, the county attorney, followed up with a cleaned-up version of that sentiment in a letter to Armor that said Nassau expected the company to comply with contractual terms, as is.

In its letter, Armor said it was asking for changes because public comments of elected officials about whether the company should stay or go were causing the firm difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff “to provide the highest levels of patient care.”

As for suspending performance indicators — which, are supposed to be used to measure contract compliance — the vendor wrote, “We respect the need for contract compliance and monitoring, but the level of recent staff turnover dictates the sole focus of remaining staff is patient care.”

Also, the company said, it needed more money because its costs to provide health care had increased.

Is the jail on the brink of a health care crisis?

No, Mangano said, noting that a county committee has recommended three potential new vendors to assume Armor’s duties.

Given what appears to be rising friction between Nassau and its jail health care vendor, does Mangano have a timeline for getting a new vendor into the facility?

“I would like to do it by the end of this year,” he said.

Even so, the relationship between Armor and Nassau — and by extension the county’s taxpayers — will not end with the contract. The families of four of five inmates whose care was deemed deficient by the state Commission of Corrections have filed suit against Armor.

And Nassau.

Which likely will make some sorry that the relationship didn’t — as advocated by lawmakers and others — end earlier.

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