- The Washington Times
Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The D.C. Council narrowly voted down a $66 million contract that would have placed for-profit company Corizon Health in charge of providing healthcare at the city jail.

The 6-5 vote pitted those who had concerns about the company’s history of providing medical care at other facilities against members who grimaced at getting involved in contracting matters already vetted by the city’s procurement experts.

“We shouldn’t be in this business. If we are going to be in the business, then we ought to respect the process,” said D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, who voted for approval of the contract.

But others questioned the thoroughness of a procurement process that awarded the contract to Corizon without making mention of numerous lawsuits filed against the company in other states as well as those that have dropped contracts with the company over recent years.

Council Member Mary Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, said the council’s job in this circumstance was to “serve as a backstop” for contracting decisions.

“We’re supposed to be here to catch what I would call manifest mistakes. This is such a case,” Ms. Cheh said before voting against the contract award.

The contract would have put Corizon in charge of providing medical, mental health, pharmacy and dental services for at least three years to the roughly 2,200 inmates in the District’s Department of Corrections. The District’s Office of Contracting and Procurement recommended awarding the contract to Corizon at a cost of 7 percent, or $4.4 million, more than the bid received from Unity Health Care, which has overseen health care at the jail since 2006.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said payouts from lawsuits filed against the District in regard to healthcare issues at the jail have seen “a breathtaking drop” during the time Unity has had the contract with the city. From 2006 through the present, he said there have been $59,000 in judgments against the District on account of lawsuits regarding healthcare at the jail compared to $1.2 million in judgments from 2002 through 2006 under a different provider, he said.

Along with Ms. Cheh and Mr. Mendelson, council members Charles Allen, David Grosso, Brianne Nadeau, and Elissa Silverman voted against the contract award.

The rejection of the Corizon contract ends an 18-month procurement and review process that will now likely have to be restarted so that the city can select a new healthcare provider. In the interim, Unity will continue to provide healthcare at the jail under an extended contract. But a spokesman for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who supported the Corizon award, said the city will be overpaying in the short term on that contract because it is based on a fixed number of inmates that is higher than the jail’s current population.

“The Council’s action will extend overpayment for care, which does not fully meet the health needs of a vulnerable population, until a new contract can be awarded,” spokesman Mike Czin said.

Corizon officials were disappointed with the decision.

“It’s unfortunate that the D.C. Council did not approve their peers’ recommendations,” said Woodrow A. Myers, Jr., chief executive officer of Corizon. “The company wishes the D.C. Department of Corrections and its residents well.”

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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