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Legislative committee delays prison health care contract

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A legislative oversight committee on Thursday delayed the implementation of a prison health care contract because of questions about the company’s ties to a Mississippi bribery scandal.

The Legislative Contract Review Committee put a hold on the proposed $360 million contract with Wexford Health Sources to supply medical and mental health care to inmates until late 2020.

Wexford is among a dozen companies sued by the state of Mississippi attorney general last year for allegedly using consultants to pay kickbacks to that state’s former prison commissioner. Wexford and other companies had paid consulting fees to businessman Cecil McCrory, who pleaded guilty after being accused of bribing the Mississippi commissioner.

Contract Review Committee Chairman Jack Williams said they wanted to gather additional information about what happened in Mississippi, but noted the final decisions rests with the governor’s office. The committee can delay a contract for 45 days, but cannot block its implementation.

“There are just some questions floating around out there. I held it up in order to give the governor’s office time to evaluate these others concerns that have been raised primarily from the state of Mississippi,” Contract Review Committee Chairman Jack Williams said.

Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said Wexford was judged the best in an evaluation of submitted bids for quality and price.

“There are allegations over there and we can’t ignore that, but they are just that. They are allegations,” Dunn said.
Dunn said there are “mechanisms” in the proposed contract to protect the state in case Wexford is found to have committed wrongdoing in Mississippi.

Wexford CEO Dann Conn said in a statement Thursday that he was confident the delay would not impact the contract.
“As Commissioner Dunn has stated on several occasions, the Department’s solicitation process was open, fair, and transparent. Wexford Health’s proposal simply offered quality, efficient patient care, at the greatest value to the state,” Conn said.

While Wexford faces the civil lawsuit in Mississippi, other companies seeking the work have also faced controversy. Corizon Health, the state’s current provider and one of the largest providers of corrections health care, has faced multiple lawsuits, including one in Alabama over the quality of care.

A roster of high-power lobbying and public relations firms are representing the various firms jockeying for the lucrative health care contract.

The prison system is facing a court order to improve mental health care. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled last year that mental health care in state prisons was “horrendously inadequate.”

State senators on Thursday also approved an extra $30 million for the state prison system.

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