The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office will cancel its $98 million contract with Armor Correctional Health Services, following The Tributary’s reporting on the beleaguered company.
Programs and Transitional Services Chief Warren Calloway told The Tributary on Tuesday morning that the office was transitioning away from Armor. Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters confirmed the change during a news conference later that day.
NaphCare – another private medical provider with its own history of alleged mistreatment of inmates – will take over on Sept. 1. The five-year $110 million contract was signed Monday, Waters said. The city did not open a competitive bidding process.
“We’ve done a deep dive on NaphCare,” Waters said. “Hillsborough County actually uses them to this day. They come very highly recommended by them.”
Calloway also told Mayor Donna Deegan’s public-safety transition committee that NaphCare would be coming in with more staff, though Waters did not comment on that.
Armor Correctional Health Services’ role at the jail has come under fire since The Tributary reported in May on the death of Dexter Barry, a 54-year-old recent heart transplant who begged police for his anti-rejection medication. He died days after his release from the jail.
The Tributary first asked Waters about Armor and his plans with jail health care in August, when he was a sheriff candidate.
That reporting has sparked an ongoing Sheriff’s Office review of Barry’s death and a state investigation into Armor’s failure to report its past convictions. Florida law prohibits public agencies from signing contracts with convicted companies.
NaphCare has a reputation for poor treatment of inmates that largely mirrors Armor’s.
At a jail with NaphCare’s medical services last September, an Atlanta man was eaten alive by bed bugs. Waters was asked specifically about the Atlanta case and if it concerns him.
“I wouldn’t have done it if I had that kind of concern,” he said. “I’ll tell you this. You can look at any medical facility in North Florida, throughout the state of Florida, and they all have issues. They’ve all had lawsuits. They’ve all had those things. But at some point, you have to look through it very carefully, and make sure that you’re making the right decision. I think we did. And I’m looking forward to the opportunity to have them serve our inmates.”
Asked what steps the Sheriff’s Office will take to make sure something similar doesn’t happen in Duval County, Waters said there are safeguards in the new contract. He declined to elaborate.
A Tributary investigation found that jail deaths have tripled ever since the Sheriff’s Office medical care privatized in October 2017 when Armor Correctional took over.
The Tributary found at least a dozen people who said they didn’t get their prescriptions while jailed between December of last year and this June.
Armor has been sued in federal court at least 570 times since the company’s founding in 2004, according to federal court records and the company’s own log. The lawsuits include accusations of medical malpractice, wrongful deaths and employment issues.
At least 43 lawsuits were settled before 2018, according to their bidding documents in another Florida county. The Tributary found settlements ranging from $300,000 to $7.8 million. Fourteen of those settlements involved Florida jails.
But the records of NaphCare don’t paint a better picture.
“There’s no company out there I’ve seen that, you know, is good,” Florida Justice Institute Director Dante Trevisani said.
Instead of spending millions of dollars on a contract with any privatized company, the Sheriff’s Office could have decided to move its medical needs in-house, which it did from about 2010 to 2017.
NaphCare’s roots began in 1989 – 15 years before Armor was created – when creator James McLane founded a pharmaceutical company to provide drugs to correctional facilities. The company is based in Alabama.
NaphCare has active contracts in Florida to handle administrative services, medical records, dialysis units and health care in at least six jails, according to its website.
Like Armor, NaphCare has been sued hundreds of times in federal court. One of those lawsuits ended in a $3 million settlement for the family of a man who died in a Virginia jail in 2015.
Then in September, Georgia inmate Lashawn Thompson died after being eaten alive by bedbugs. Pictures of his jail cell show rust and trash covered floors. An autopsy showed that Thompson was dehydrated, malnourished and despite needing medication for schizophrenia, had none in his system. His manner of death was determined to be a homicide.
Medical records show NaphCare personnel had a 43-day gap in which there was minimal documentation regarding the care Thompson was given, the autopsy says. A lawsuit against the company is pending.
At least 550 other lawsuits have been filed against NaphCare, according to federal court records.
Are there better options?
Prior to 2010, JSO had a partnership with the Duval County Health Department. Then, because the state and city couldn’t agree on a contract, the jail transitioned to handling health care in-house.
The move also saved taxpayers up to $700,000, The Florida Times-Union reported at the time. There were an average of four deaths per year from 2012 to Armor’s takeover.
“Whenever we privatize service, we see dollar bills put before health,” said Denise Rock, the founder and executive director of Florida Cares, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of the incarcerated.
But it’s hard to say whether moving health care in-house is better, Trevisani, the Florida Justice Institute director said.
“What I do know is that when you’re using a private company, there is a profit motive,” he said. “The profit motive incentivizes cutting staff and providing less care. And then the problem is particularly bad in jails because most people are there for short periods of time. And so there’s an incentive to just delay care until people are either released or are transferred to prison.”
It’s hard to say which private company is better than another when they all provide such poor service, said Wanda Bertram, a spokeswoman with the Prison Policy Initiative. “I don’t think I can tell you which of those companies are doing it right because they’re all drowning in lawsuits. They all have the capacity to do those terrible things that Armor has done.”
She said what matters most is how willing the Sheriff’s Office is to spend more money on providing better health care.