Nassau lawmakers on Monday approved a contract that returns the role of providing inmate health care to county employees, cutting ties — at significant cost — with a for-profit company critics have blamed for a series of deaths at the jail.
The county legislature’s Rules Committee voted unanimously for a two-year, $42 million pact with Nassau Health Care Corp., which runs the Nassau University Medical Center.
The hospital, located down the street from the East Meadow jail, will take over for Armor Correctional Health Services Sept. 1, pending approval from the county comptroller and the county’s state financial control board. The full legislature doesn’t need to act on the contract.
Nassau will pay NUMC a $6 million advance to prepare it for a return to providing jail services. County Executive Edward Mangano turned to the hospital after no qualified private companies sought to succeed Armor.
“We really have to do this, or else these people have no health care,” said Legis. Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence).
“There is no choice,” responded deputy county executive Chuck Ribando.
Armor first won its contract in 2011, and has been paid about $11 million annually. At the time the Miami-based firm took over at the jail, Mangano touted the millions of dollars a year it would save the county over NUMC, which had provided the service for years but wouldn’t bid to retain the job at the price the county wanted.
The new pact will pay NUMC roughly $18 million a year, plus at least $3 million in administrative fees. It also includes an additional $12 million Nassau will pay for improved medical facilities at the jail and hospital.
For the increased cost, NUMC chief executive and president Dr. Victor Politi cited benefits including that inmates needing emergency hospital care would now be sent to the facility without delay.
“I think that may have been an issue in the past, but it’s not going to be an issue going forward,” Politi said.
Armor had come under fire in recent years following a series of inmate deaths.
The State Commission of Correction found that the company provided inadequate care in connection with five Nassau inmate deaths.
The state oversight board still is investigating other jail custody fatalities, including the May death of a 58-year-old female inmate whose attorney contended didn’t get proper medication.
Last year Armor settled a lawsuit from state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman that alleged a widespread pattern of deficient inmate care by agreeing to a three-year ban in New York and a $350,000 fine.
Four federal lawsuits that families of inmates who died in custody filed against the county and Armor are ongoing. A jury in April awarded nearly $8 million to the mother of a Marine who committed suicide at the jail in 2012.
Lawmakers recently voted to extend Armor’s contract, which was to end in May, through August after two separate bid solicitations for a new inmate medical provider ended without the county finding any qualified takers.
The Mangano administration first entered talks with NUMC in an emergency effort to avert a gap in care, after Armor sued to leave no later than May. The company is receiving $4.8 million to work for the additional three months.
Also Monday, the full county legislature unanimously approved an overhaul of the rarely heard from board of ethics that would limit the number of members representing one political party, restrict members’ political activity and require speedier opinions.
The board has been criticized for being stacked with administration Republican appointees and issuing few public reports.
The reforms include: ensuring the five-member board has no more than two representatives of any political party, banning members from making campaign contributions or seeking elected office, requiring most reports to be issued within 30 days, and expanding ethics training given by the board to county employees.