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Nassau sheriff didn’t properly oversee problem-plagued health care provider, audit says

The Nassau County Correctional Center in East Meadow

The Nassau County Correctional Center in East Meadow in August 2016. Photo Credit: / Kevin P. Coughlin

The jail’s outgoing medical provider’s tenure has been marked by problems, including high staff turnover, an outdated record system and a failure to earn a contractually-required national accreditation, a county audit has found.

Nassau Comptroller George Maragos’ audit also found the Sheriff’s Department failed to adequately supervise Armor Correctional Health Services’ compliance with its contract.

Among the shortcomings the audit found was that Armor had an employee turnover rate of 60 percent in one year, used paper-based records that don’t meet federal requirements, and failed to properly document employee criminal background checks.

The audit repeatedly noted that, for years, the jail lacked a health contract administrator to monitor Armor’s performance. The only medical staff employed by the Sheriff’s Department who worked with Armor at the jail was a nurse, who left in August 2013.

Maragos, in a prepared statement, called it “disturbing that the level of care provided was not monitored and the Correctional Center appeared to be defending the vendor rather than holding them accountable.”

But County Executive Edward Mangano’s administration fired back Monday at Maragos.

“The Comptroller’s motivation is questionable as he reviewed and fully paid Armor invoices for five years without question,” said Mangano’s spokesman, Brian Nevin. “It’s reasonable to wonder if his report is slanted to his political aspirations. That being said, the administration put additional oversight in place to ensure compliance.”

Maragos recently announced he’d switched to the Democratic party and is seeking the party’s nomination to run for Mangano’s job.

Sheriff Michael Sposato, a Mangano appointee who runs the jail, didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday.

Armor said in a statement it previously gave Maragos feedback on the audit “and will now focus on patient care” and working with the jail and the next medical vendor “on a timely and efficient transition.”

The audit follows Armor’s recent legal settlement with New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who sued the company in July, alleging the vendor repeatedly failed to provide adequate inmate care. The lawsuit settled this month, with Armor admitting no wrongdoing but accepting a three-year ban on New York contract bids and a $350,000 fine.

The lawsuit had followed a series of inmate custody deaths at Nassau’s jail since Armor first won a county contract in mid-2011. The state Commission of Correction has found Armor has provided deficient care in connection with five Nassau inmate deaths, and other fatalities remain under probe.

Maragos noted the commission’s findings in his audit, which his office started in January 2015.

“The county spent considerable taxpayer funds to provide quality medical health services to inmates under its care. Clearly the county did not get what it paid for,” his statement added Monday.

Mangano’s administration is currently negotiating with a for-profit Tennessee company to potentially take over as the jail’s inmate medical provider after the vendor emerged as a selection committee’s top pick of three bidders.

While Armor recently threatened a jail walkout on two occasions, a jail spokesman said on Oct. 7 the company agreed it would stay in place as the county transitioned to a new provider. Those threats began after Maragos temporarily suspended regular monthly payments of roughly $1 million to Armor after Schneiderman’s lawsuit, saying the company first had to provide stats showing it was meeting contract performance standards.

In letters addressing Maragos’ findings, Sposato said an interim health contract administrator was put in place earlier this year and will remain until officials hire someone for the job. He also said Armor’s failure to earn a national accreditation was “due to factors beyond its control,” which includes that the jail’s infirmary only treats male, and not female inmates, and therefore couldn’t seek accreditation as a facility with an infirmary.

The sheriff said that because of “security-related and other physical plant concerns,” a final decision hadn’t been made about whether to seek variances from the state to portion off part of the infirmary to accommodate female inmates.

Sposato also said Armor has been working on setting up an electronic medical records system, but the delay in implementing it “was through no fault of Armor,” but “due to infrastructure issues” with the jail.

In its response to Maragos, Armor said in part that jail “facility limitations” have hampered electronic record keeping of inmate records. It acknowledged high turnover rates, and errors in its reporting of some of its stats regarding patient treatment.

But it dismissed the state commission’s reports on Nassau inmate deaths as being “consistently inaccurate with respect to the facts.” It also said it has fallen victim to “one-sided reporting in the media,” in the last year, and pointed to perceived weaknesses in Schneiderman’s now-settled lawsuit.


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