For the second time in less than two years, a medical provider at the beleaguered Bernalillo County jail is departing before its contract is up.
YesCare should be out of the Metropolitan Detention Center by July 25 — more than two years early — according to a termination letter the county sent to the Tennessee-based company.
Twenty-one people have died in the jail’s custody since the beginning of 2020, an increase over prior years that has alarmed experts, attorneys, advocates and staff. Three people have died in custody so far this year — the latest of whom died on Thursday.
YesCare, formerly known as Corizon Health, had been operating at the state’s largest jail since September 2021. A four-year contract with Bernalillo County called for it to be paid around $15 million per year for a total of $64.9 million and allows either party to terminate with 180 days notice.
On Jan. 26 the county exercised that option.
A letter from the county manager to the company informed it of the termination but did not provide any explanation for the decision. It said “we hope to proceed professionally to close out our relationship and avoid reference to other termination provisions.”
“The county is working to ensure an orderly transition in the interim, while also working to carefully implement replacement services,” said Tia Bland, a Bernalillo County spokeswoman.
She said Julie Morgas Baca, the county manager, was not available for an interview about the matter.
A spokeswoman for YesCare said it was “a mutual agreement to terminate.”
The termination comes about four months after discussions between the two parties about the company’s request to amend the contract for “additional compensation.”
In September, in response to that request, the deputy county manager sent a letter to YesCare’s senior vice president laying out a number of issues, including that the site went for several months without two medical doctors, a site physician and a medical director as required in its contract and that staff were reporting that the medical records system was “unusable to such an extent that it hinders care.”
“The county is not in a position to consider any portion of the proposed amendment until all items above have been addressed to the satisfaction of the county,” Lisa Sedillo-White wrote.
Change of providers
YesCare replaced Centurion Detention Health Services — a St. Louis-based company — which terminated its contract more than a year early after Morgas Baca said she “expressed concern to Centurion over staff vacancies and continuity of care” and asked the company to respond to those specific concerns. At that time, nine people had died in custody over the course of a year.
Centurion ended its contract, giving six months notice, before answering those concerns.
In September 2021 when the Bernalillo County Commission approved YesCare’s contract county officials said it would increase health care staffing. The contract funded about 105 medical staff positions and many employees who had worked at the jail under Centurion stayed on.
However, it wasn’t long before nursing staff began reporting that the medical program had declined under the new company.
In a declaration filed in federal court in January 2022, a nurse who had been employed at the jail for 11 years said she was resigning “due to the safety concerns I have for our clientele and our staff.”
Nurse Taileigh Sanchez said it was “the worst medical care has ever been at MDC.”
In response the medical provider’s senior vice president said “disgruntled former employees who preferred the substandard status quo will surely make noise because we demand more quality from them” and that “the unfortunate reality is we’re digging ourselves out of a deep hole to meet compliance standards.”
High number of detox deaths
The jail has been consistently understaffed, both among its medical personnel and correctional officers, for years.
An expert tasked with reviewing the facility’s medical care as part of the McClendon settlement agreement laying out reforms in the jail found numerous issues during an August visit, including that the number of detox assessments done by each nurse were very high, impacting quality and increasing risk to inmates, and the process for getting sick inmates the medical attention that they need is “not reliable” and “not adequate.”
About half of the people who died in custody since 2020 were detoxing from drugs or alcohol at the time.
In the past year, four people have died while detoxing — including Brian Korth who killed himself in March. The other detox deaths include: Sao Chau in August, April Trujillo in November and Tanya Martinez last month. Martinez’s death came 10 days after another inmate, Jesus Ramirez Olivas, died. Ramirez Olivas’s cause of death has not been publicly released.
Shortly after noon on Thursday, 64-year-old Chris Moya died at the jail. His cause of death has not been publicly released.
Moya had been booked into jail two days earlier on warrants for failing to appear in two court cases involving driving while his license was revoked, a misdemeanor, and other traffic charges.
Bland said he “went into medical distress and responding MDC staff initiated rescue efforts and called for emergency medical services.” Those efforts were unsuccessful.
She said Moya’s death is being investigated by the MDC Office of Professional Standards and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, which is standard procedure.
Kate Loewe, an attorney representing incarcerated people in the McClendon case, said YesCare “simply did not provide adequate care to our community members at MDC.
“This corporation failed our clients over and over again,” Loewe said. “Three people have died while withdrawing from opioids in a very short time — with proper care withdrawal should not be fatal.”
Furthermore, Loewe said, her clients had told her that around the beginning of the year there were full days when they did not receive their daily medications.
“I hope we break out of the cycle of profit-driven, out-of-state companies,” Loewe said. “I think this is a great opportunity for our community to come together and provide community-based medical and mental health care at the jail.”
A timeline of people who died in custody of NM’s largest jail since start of 2020