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Why no action on health care at Nassau jail?

Antonio Marinaccio, Jr. is seen in this photo

Antonio Marinaccio, Jr. is seen in this photo from Thursday, August 20, 2015 Credit: Howard Schnapp

It’s disturbing that Nassau County says it can’t break its contract with Miami-based Armor Correctional Health Services, which was bought in to curb the cost of medical care at the county jail, despite repeated criticism of the vendor’s health care.

The company says the criticisms are unfounded. The county says it can’t do anything because there have been no findings of wrongdoing against Armor, and because it would cost Nassau too much to break the agreement.

The standard of care at Nassau’s jail has been criticized by the state, the New York Civil Liberties Union, a judge in Nassau and a former head of county’s bar association.

“I started on this in the summer of 2013, when there were concerns from a couple of my clients and nothing’s changed since then,” Marc Gann, the former bar association head, said in an interview Wednesday.

In a letter last year to Nassau County Sheriff Michael Sposato, Gann said shortcomings in health care provided by the company “must be addressed before an inmate is seriously injured or dies.”

Despite concerns from Gann and others, The county last year extended the company’s contract, which was first let in 2011, for two more years.

Since then, the state Attorney General’s office has launched an investigation into Armor.

The state Commission on Correction — after calling Armor’s care “grossly incompetent” after the death of a Nassau inmate in 2011, and “inadequate” after the suicide of another in 2012 — asked county lawmakers to investigate the quality of care at the jail.

Now come allegations, as reported by Newsday’s Bridget Murphy this week, that records from the jail medical chart of Antonio Marinaccio Jr., 53, of Levittown, were falsified after he collapsed in May. Marinaccio died a few days later.

Although Armor has been cited for serious deficiencies by the state Department of Correction dating back to 2011, the company is disputing them all.

Wednesday, Sposato — in his first public comments on the matter — said he has talked with Armor officials daily, and after the release of every state commission report, to make sure recommendations were followed. The company is responsible for aspects of health care, from dental to mental health, at the jail.

“No one wants a death, it is very disturbing,” said Sposato. He noted that the county is working on a request for proposals for a new vendor.

But any new vendor could not take over until Armor’s contract expires in 2017.

As for county lawmakers, Norma Gonsalves, Nassau’s presiding officer, is awaiting information from the county correction department, her spokeswoman said.

Is Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) considering a public hearings about health care at the jail, which is in her district? Spokeswoman Christine Brennan said Gonsalves would not rule it out.

Meanwhile, lawsuits from inmate families, including Marinaccio’s, are ongoing.

Years ago, medical care at the jail was monitored by the federal government. Absent a greater sense of urgency by Nassau officials in addressing the current issues, could the county be headed that way again?

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