Citizens in Milwaukee are revolting against their sheriff over poor health care in jails. Patients have serious untreated health-care needs, and the only services the jails provide is pulling teeth. Sheriff David Clarke says the solution is to outsource jail medical care to a private Miami-based company, Armor Correctional Health Services.
Getting a private contractor in on the deal certainly eliminates much of the bureaucratic headaches of actually taking care of inmates. But as our own Broward Sheriff's Office, which contracts exclusively with Armor in its jails, has shown, privatization is an imperfect solution.
Over the past few years, Armor has been hit with dozens of lawsuits claiming improper medical care, many filed from the jailhouse in federal court. Here's a sampling.
-- As we previously reported, Tommy Yesbick sued sheriff Lamberti in February, claiming that bad toothbrushes and improper dental care were causing his gums to bleed. "Toothbrushes" given to inmates are little clear finger cots with rubber nubs.
-- An inmate named Fred Gray II also sued Armor in February, claiming that his possibly strangulated hernia did not receive attention despite requests to jail officials. "I've spoken to numerous doctors verbally since 6/29/11 until now and the problem has gotten worse, but... the only solution for this problem is corrective surgery," wrote Gray. A judge dismissed the case because Gray had not named defendants properly.
-- Back in 2007, Richard Hardwick claimed that he was denied access to the medication he took to control his HIV and that his "health deteriorated irreparably and substantially as a result." He claimed that "it is the policy, practice, custom, and procedure of Armor to refuse and/or delay providing HIV medications to prisoners as a cost-saving method." Hardwick was represented by private attorneys. Armor settled the suit in 2008 for an undisclosed amount.
-- Lance Stevenson claimed in a handwritten pro-se complaint this year that he was denied treatment for a fractured hand and injured knee. The case is still open.
-- Paulius Telamy, an inmate at the Okeechobee Correctional Institution, claimed last September that he was denied medication prescribed after an oral surgery while in the custody of BSO. The case is still proceeding, awaiting depositions.
Armor faces complaints in multiple counties under different sheriffs' jurisdictions, and this is not a problem unique to BSO. Nor, says Armor public affairs representative Yeleny Suarez, is it unique to Armor or to privatized health care.
"It's very common [to see these claims] when you deal with jails and prisoners," Suarez told us. "It affects all the other companies; it's not something new."
But when a jailer outsources medical care, it's bound to get complicated as a private entity enters the fold of legal responsibility. Armor advertises itself to correctional agencies as helping to reduce the costs of litigation from cases like these. In a follow-up post, we'll have more of Armor's response, as well as an explanation of who pays when an irate inmate says he can't get access to medical care.