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Nassau comptroller stops payments to jail’s medical provider

Nassau County Correctional Center in East Meadow on

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

Nassau County’s comptroller said Wednesday he has stopped payments to the jail’s embattled medical care provider and won’t approve any fund transfers until the company provides statistics showing it meets performance standards in its contract.

Comptroller George Maragos told Newsday he has withheld payment on Armor Correctional Health Service’s June bill of more than $900,000 following the state attorney general’s recent lawsuit alleging the company has repeatedly denied inmates adequate care.

“We have halted that payment and subsequent payment and requested them to provide their metrics that they’re contractually obligated to provide showing that they meet a high level of medical care as per their contract,” Maragos said in an exclusive interview.

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s July 11 civil action, which follows a series of Nassau inmate deaths, claims the Florida-based company defrauded taxpayers by taking millions in public money since mid-2011 while providing “woefully and dangerously inadequate health services.”

The lawsuit also comes after findings from the state Commission of Correction that Armor has provided deficient care in connection with the deaths of five Nassau inmates.

However, Armor has repeatedly defended its standard of care and has said it will vigorously fight the state’s lawsuit. The company, along with the county, is battling federal lawsuits from the families of four of the deceased inmates.

Armor officials didn’t answer questions Wednesday related to the payment suspension.

“We’re not going to pay them until they prove to us that they’ve complied with their contractual obligations in the care that they provide,” Maragos said of the June bill and potentially other bills going forward.

He said his office also will ask Armor to provide statistics tracking its performance going back to the beginning of its first contract.

Armor’s contract says the county can assess specific financial penalties for missed performance benchmarks in a range of categories that include the amount of time it takes officials to answer inmate sick calls and provide necessary medication.

Maragos said the county could seek legal action to recover any damages that may be owed from past payments — damages Schneiderman’s lawsuit estimated at about $6 million.

The comptroller said if Armor hands over historical data that is either fraudulent or doesn’t prove that they met performance requirements, his office “will ask the county attorney to file a civil action to recover those payments.”

Maragos added that County Executive Edward Mangano “has no say” in whether Armor’s bill is paid. He said the decision to withhold payment was “solely within the comptroller’s domain,” and he hadn’t discussed the issue with Mangano or Sheriff Michael Sposato.

Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin answered an inquiry Wednesday with a statement from the county executive confirming Maragos “has not discussed his position with the administration.”

Mangano’s statement added of the comptroller: “We agree he is acting within his jurisdiction.”

Nevin wouldn’t say if Mangano supported Maragos’ decision to not pay Armor.

The comptroller said there also had been no discussion between himself and Mangano about the possibility of ending Armor’s contract, but he anticipated there would be.

“Now that the issue of payment is coming to the forefront, I’m sure there’s going to be some very serious and in-depth discussions on it,” he said. “I’m not sure how long Armor will be able to keep going without payment.”

Armor’s contract says the county can end it for any reason upon a month’s written notice; for “cause” immediately upon Armor’s receipt of written notice; and upon written agreement of both parties.

Democratic County Legis. Laura Curran of Baldwin, the ranking minority party member on the County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee, said Wednesday Maragos was asking for statistics she requested from the jail four months ago.

“I never received a response. So much for having the ‘most transparent government in history,’ ” she added.

Besides criticizing Armor, Schneiderman’s lawsuit also alleged that county officials have failed to take any action against Armor to enforce its contract terms.

It pointed out that the county has never assessed a financial penalty against the company despite its alleged “serial failings” and wording in its contract setting specific fees for missed performance benchmarks.

Maragos said his office got complaints about Armor about 18 months ago and was “going to go in and look at their performance,” but “stepped back” when law enforcement officials starting investigating the company.

The comptroller’s office also released findings Wednesday from a limited review of Armor’s compliance with its contract that showed the company underpaid about 20 employees — mostly records clerks — by about $10,000 in a two-year period.

It also found the company owed a total of about $900 to six workers for unpaid compensatory time and that Armor’s pay policy upon a worker’s firing wasn’t in compliance with the law because the employee couldn’t collect money for accrued vacation days.

Armor spokeswoman Yeleny Suarez said in a statement this was “the first instance in Armor’s 12-year history where our corporate policy has not met all living wage laws of our clients and their respective counties.”

She added that Armor accepted the three findings related to living wage laws, already had paid about $11,000 to workers and anticipated paying out about $10,000 more.

Maragos said his office expects to release more findings soon based on its review of Armor’s contract, including information on the “high level of turnover” among doctors and nurses at Nassau’s jail.

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