BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Ask advocates if it matters that a detainee in the custody of East Baton Rouge Parish Prison died off-site instead of inside the parish prison and they’ll tell you, “if someone is in your custody and they die, you don’t get points because they died in a hospital.”
One advocate said just that in response to Mayor Pro-Tempore Scott Wilson after he compared the number of deaths among the parish’s detainees to national figures in an attempt to draw heat off CorrectHealth, the city-parish’s private vendor responsible for all healthcare operations at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.
Wednesday night’s (Feb. 12) metro council meeting was a poor showing for CorrectHealth as the company’s director of clinical services of Louisiana, Jean Llovet, either couldn’t or declined to answer a majority of questions posed by the council, before also declining to answer questions from WAFB and promptly leaving city hall.
The meeting was an indicator that CorrectHealth may not have the backing from council members it needs to be awarded a new contract with the city-parish when the current one expires.
When CorrectHealth was initially awarded the contract in 2016, the previous administration was rushing to replace Emergency Medical Services, which took over healthcare for detainees following the closure of Earl K. Long in 2013.
Around the same time in 2016, an independent jail monitor was hired to review healthcare operations managed by CorrectHealth at a Georgia jail following a string of deaths, according to a report from Reuters.
“But after several trips to the jail that summer through winter, [the monitor’s] team delivered four scathing reports. They described staff shortages, unclear health guidelines and failures to give inmates prescribed medications. Such failings, they warned, could trigger “potential loss of life.” Indeed, that September, six weeks before the second report was issued, an inmate strangled himself with a telephone cord. The death came after the monitors warned that the facility lacked written policies for suicidal inmates,” the report states.
“CorrectHealth, and its president’s wife, had donated $5,000 to the election campaign of Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher. CorrectHealth also had hired a state senator to run the jail’s dental clinic,” noted Reuters’ report.
CorrectHealth argues the number of deaths of detainees in parish prison being double the national average was a problem inherited from previous providers. It also argued other factors like the health conditions detainees have before being booked are to blame for those numbers.
But it’s the optics of inmate deaths and lack of transparency from CorrectHealth on how it’s addressing them that bring it under fire.
Council members complained the vendor’s policies seemed ineffective and it was unclear how inmates could communicate health issues to staffers. One council member’s questions revealed there has been much turnover among CorrectHealth’s management team since 2017.
Council members were also unsettled as a parish attorney said he suspects any lawsuit settlements related to medical errors or neglect in the parish prison would be paid out from the city-parish.
Lobbyists working on behalf of other groups hoping to replace CorrectHealth peered from their seats as its representative failed to answer questions, drawing groans from council members.
Besides grilling CorrectHealth on its operations, council members set their sights on lobbying their interests against the current conditions in the prison.
“I wouldn’t want my worst enemy going to parish prison,” said Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis. She went on to describe the facility as a “hellhole.”
Council members described the prison as being unkempt, full of vermin, and raised concerns that the facility’s state could be contributing to negative health outcomes for detainees.
Councilwoman Chauna Banks specifically chose to take aim at other members of the council over money going to The Bridge Center, money she says could’ve gone to improving the prison if the people of the parish hadn’t been “duped.”
The council meeting ended with a list of demands from advocates hoping to reform the parish prison’s healthcare system, which included removing CorrectHealth, performing an external audit of the current state of healthcare operations in parish prison, and investigating conflicts of interest with CorrectHealth and other potential vendors hoping to replace it.
Reuters reported CorrectHealth was founded in 2000 by Carlo Musso and has grown to hold over 40 contracts across Georgia and Louisiana.
Since January, WAFB investigators have attempted to contact CorrectHealth to no avail.