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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Will Nassau jail inmate care shift to NUMC?

Nassau County Correctional Facility on Friday, March 11,

Nassau County Correctional Facility on Friday, March 11, 2016 in East Meadow. Credit: Howard Schnapp

It looks like Nassau may be circling back to Nassau University Medical Center to once again provide medical care to county jail inmates. It could make sense, given that the hospital is the jail’s next-door neighbor.

Negotiations with NUMC also make sense because, should Armor Correctional Services, as it has promised, stop providing medical care next month, jail emergencies will end up going to the closest hospital — NUMC — anyway.

Without a plan in place that recognizes that reality, jail inmates could be rushed to the facility’s recently renovated emergency room right along with regular customers.

That’s something NUMC — which for years has been improving its facilities and services in an attempt to distance itself from its reputation as a hospital that primarily served the poor — certainly would not want.

And it’s a scenario that NUMC, which already is struggling with its finances, would not need.

Nonetheless, the hospital is finding itself caught in the middle of a dispute between Nassau and its vendor, Armor, which has notified Nassau of its intent to leave when its contract expires May 31.

Under its contract with Nassau, Armor is supposed to stay on site through June and July to aid the transition to a new vendor.

Armor has gone to court seeking a judgment that would allow it to leave once its contract expires on May 31. And Nassau, in response to Armor’s court filings, acknowledges that it has received no bids from qualified replacement vendors.

That’s put the squeeze on NUMC. The hospital handled inmate medical care until 2011 when Nassau, in an attempt to reign in expenses, moved to a private vendor.

In the years since, as both Nassau’s comptroller and the county legislature’s independent office of budget review have noted, the county saved millions of dollars by using the private vendor.

But the cost of handling lawsuits arising over the quality of medical care could blunt some of those savings. The county and Armor lost the first case to go to trial in federal court, in which the family of a Iraq War veteran who committed suicide at the jail won almost $8 million.

As of now, NUMC looks to be the only viable option for the jail, which under law must provide inmate care.

“We are in discussions with Nassau County relative to developing a temporary contingency plan for this urgent situation and cannot comment further, pending the outcome of these discussions,” said NUMC spokeswoman Shelley Lotenberg said Tuesday. Brian Nevin, spokesman for County Executive Edward Mangano, said Nassau “is working on a contingency plan with NUMC and the term is under negotiations.”

Jerry Laricchiuta, president of Nassau’s Civil Service Employees Association, supports returning jail medical care to NUMC — and thus, to union employees.

“I think everything, from figuring out how many to hire, how to hire them under Civil Service and even how to bring jail patients in through the old emergency room, can be worked out,” he said

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, which controls county finances, had no comment on the potential move. In past reports, however, NIFA has expressed concern over the state of hospital finances.

For years after the hospital was sold to a public benefit corporation, Nassau helped support the facility with annual payments. Those ended a few years ago as the county was looking to cut costs.

Any solution to the jail medical care problem, however, would have to keep finances in mind. Should NUMC falter, Nassau and its taxpayers are responsible for paying off its bonds.

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