LACONIA – The cost of providing medical services to inmates at Belknap County Correctional Facility will be more stable and lead to less cost overruns under a contract with a correctional company approved by the County Commission by Belknap.
But Thursday’s decision to award the contract to Pennsylvania-based PrimeCare Medical Inc. drew criticism from a doctor who currently provides medical services to inmates. The doctor, Christopher Braga, said his company had not had a reasonable opportunity to submit its own bid to provide full medical services.
With the new contract effective June 15, Superintendent of Corrections Adam Cunningham estimates total medical costs for the year will be $ 699,998. This is about $ 20,500 more than the projected cost if the department had stayed with the current medical services arrangement, and $ 55,224 more than the amount allowed for medical expenses in the budget.
At a previous meeting, Cunningham told commissioners that by privatizing health services the county would be in a better position to control costs as there would be less unforeseen spending on medical care.
But in a note he presented to commissioners on Thursday, he warned that cost projections under the new contact do not take into account “increases in the prison population, unforeseen medical bills or unpaid bills (costs of medical services already provided but for which no invoice has so far been submitted to the county for payment).
Currently, the Correctional Service has a bifurcated health care system. She employs two nurses as well as a head nurse and contracts with the American Institutional Medical Group in Manchester to provide medical care. American Institutional has provided physician services for the past 11 years, according to Braga, a co-owner of the practice.
Braga told commissioners his company had two weeks to submit a full-service offer – much less time, he said, than PrimeCare had to draft its proposal.
“We haven’t had enough time to come up with a revised proposal,” Braga said later in the meeting, after commissioners had already approved the PrimeCare contract. “We just want a fair opportunity to bid competitively.”
He said his company “only found out through the grapevine” that the Corrections Department was in conversation with PrimeCare.
Braga further alleged that PrimeCare’s level of service is lower.
“The care is poor, I witnessed it firsthand,” he said.
Commission chairman Peter Spanos told Braga the commission approved the contract because it had full confidence in Cunningham’s leadership.
“You’ve been given two weeks (to submit the proposal). I’m sorry it’s not enough time, ”said Spanos. “We have made our decision.”
Cunningham said the major problem with the current arrangement was the inability to have adequate and consistent nursing coverage in the facility. He said the current staff of three nurses do not provide coverage when nurses are on sick leave or on vacation. He said that last year the correctional service was not covered by a nurse for 1,100 scheduled hours. So far this year, the facility has not been covered by a nurse for 366 hours, he said in a note to the committee.
At the meeting, he told commissioners that due to gaps in coverage, correctional officers were sometimes forced to dispense medication to inmates.
“This is a trial that is waiting to happen,” said Commissioner Hunter Taylor. “We have no choice but to follow this path” of privatization.