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Wayne County OKs $52M jail medical services contract

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Wayne County commissioners Thursday approved a $52 million contract to privatize medical services at the county jail.

The board voted 10-5 to OK the nearly 3-year deal with Correct Care Solutions LLC of Nashville. The contract will take effect Jan. 1.

Chairman Gary Woronchak, D-Dearborn, Glenn Anderson, D-Westland, Ray Basham, D-Taylor, Tim Killeen, D-Detroit, and Diane Webb, D-Livonia, voted against the measure.

“I don’t believe in supporting ... out-of-state, private health care companies at the expense of organized labor whose members are Wayne County residents and taxpayers,” Webb said.

But Commissioner Joe Palamara, D-Grosse Ile Township, said there was a lot of deliberation over the issue, but it was a simple decision for him.

“For over 40 years, not four, not fourteen, but over 40, Wayne County has been under a court-imposed consent decree to fix the jail health problems,” he said.

In 1971, a class-action lawsuit was filed by inmates over the jail’s conditions.

“Is this perfect?” Palamara asked. “No. But I’m not going to let (that) be the enemy of better. This is going to make it better. And hopefully, we’ll be able to get out from under the consent decree.”

Under the contract, the company will provide and manage medical, dental, pharmacy and mental health services for an estimated 2,000 inmates.

The deal will affect all jail health care workers, including nurses, clerical support staff, social workers, social service specialists, psychiatrists, dentists, dental assistants, psychologists, the medical director and the psychiatry director, said Ryan Bridges, a spokesman for Wayne County Executive Warren Evans.

County employees at the Juvenile Detention Facility will not be affected.

Bridges said contracting with Correct Care isn’t a cost-cutting move.

“It’s is about providing quality sustainable care, not cost-savings,” he said. “Ultimately, the contract would cost more than what the county spends now — and that reflects our commitment to doing what it takes to provide quality care.”

Correct Care also provides medical services at the Oakland and Macomb county jails. It has more than 6,000 employees in 333 detention facilities around the country who provide health care services to more than 160,000 patients — 3,400 of which are youths.

The company and the county nurses’ union, the Wayne County Professional Nurses Council of the Government Administrators Association, have also signed a tentative agreement under which Correct Care will recognize the union for two years. It will also give each jail nurse who becomes a Correct Care employee a $5,000 bonus after nine months of service.

Elizabeth Patterson, president of the union that represents nearly 100 nurses, said her members were opposed to privatizing the services they provide, but agreed to the tentative agreement to soften the blow.

“We accepted the agreement in case the bus that ran over us today came,” she said. “We did the best we could do and fought the best fight we could possibly fight. We hope something good happens.”

County Executive Warren Evans thanked the commission for “stepping up and taking action on a problem that has plagued this county for more than 40 years.”

“From the beginning, this process focused on improving the quality of care in our jails and ensuring that those we are responsible for receive the care they need. This contract will bring resources and infrastructure that will only bolster the efforts of our dedicated health care professionals in delivering improved care to those in our jails.”

cramirez@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2058