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Nassau comptroller says he’s paying jail vendor half its bill

Nassau County Correctional Facility on Friday, March 11,

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

Nassau County’s comptroller authorized a $802,000 bill payment to the jail’s inmate medical provider Friday, about half of what the embattled vendor had demanded while threatening a walkout from the East Meadow facility in 30 days or less.

But it remained unclear if Armor Correctional Health Services planned to pull its operations from the jail early, or how the county would meet the health needs of inmates if the company exited abruptly.

The conflict has been building since Comptroller George Maragos stopped paying Armor’s monthly invoices in July, saying he first needed data showing the company was fulfilling performance standards in its contract.

His stance followed a lawsuit New York’s attorney general filed against Armor on July 11after a series of Nassau inmate deaths.

The civil action accused the for-profit, Florida-based contractor of providing “dangerously inadequate” health services, and alleged county officials had failed to enforce performance terms of Armor’s contract.

Armor sent Maragos a letter Wednesday saying it would terminate its contract early, and leave by no later than Oct. 7, if the county didn’t pay its July and August bills by Friday — which came to about $2 million.

Maragos said Friday’s payment covers only the July bill, and was authorized after the county received the documentation it needed.

“What they do from here on is really up to them,” he said of Armor.

An Armor spokeswoman wouldn’t comment Friday on whether the company planned to terminate its contract and leave the jail shortly.

Now some inmate advocates fear the jail is on the cusp of a full-blown health care crisis.

“It’s quite alarming to think of the prospect of there being a lack of medical care inside the jail,” Susan Gottehrer, head of Nassau’s New York Civil Liberties Union chapter, said on Friday. She added it was “incumbent on the county” to make sure inmates’ rights were protected.

County Executive Edward Mangano’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment Friday.

But Sheriff Michael Sposato, a Mangano appointee who runs the jail, said he was “happy to hear” about the July payment and hoped Armor wouldn’t walk out.

However, he said he didn’t have a backup plan for providing inmate medical care in case Armor — whose contract expires in May — leaves in a hurry.

“Honestly, I don’t have one ... My only plan is to have the comptroller and Armor work this out so that they’ll be here until we pick the new vendor,” the sheriff said.

Sposato added that Nassau University Medical Center — a publicly funded hospital and the jail’s previous medical provider — had been his backup choice until a top NUMC official told him there wasn’t enough hospital staff to handle inmate care.

“I’m just holding my breath and hoping we have something in place for these inmates,” Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin) said Friday. “This is a dangerous game.”

Maragos said Armor’s August bill of about $1 million still is under review and could be paid in the next week or two.

He said the July payment accounts for about $165,000 in deductions for missed performance benchmarks in areas including inmate sick call responses, along with a penalty for not getting an industry accreditation.

The state Commission of Correction has found Armor provided deficient care in connection with five Nassau inmate deaths since the company first won a Nassau contract in mid-2011.

The oversight agency is investigating the six Nassau jail custody fatalities this year, including the death Monday of inmate Michael Cullum, 62.

Armor, which has defended its operations repeatedly, said last month it wouldn’t bid for a new jail contract after Mangano’s administration released a request for proposals in March.

Mangano has resisted prior calls for the county to dump Armor’s contract, including after a group of Democratic county legislators criticized the vendor’s care and called for federal intervention at the jail earlier this year.

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