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State: Prison Health Care Inadequate

By Trip Jennings
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE— State Corrections Secretary Joe R. Williams said Wednesday the company providing health care for most of the state's prison population isn't meeting its obligations and could lose its contract.
    "We are dissatisfied" with Wexford Health Sources, Williams told the Legislative Finance Committee. "I am contemplating severing our relationship."
    Wexford, which beat out two competitors in 2004 to win the four-year contract, has struggled to keep enough employees to provide adequate on-site medical, psychiatric and dental care at nine of 11 state correctional facilities for which it is responsible, Williams said.
    Representatives of Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Wexford did not return telephone messages seeking comment Wednesday.
    The termination of its services could mean the loss of a lucrative contract for Wexford. Prison health care could cost as much as $34 million in this fiscal year and rise to $39 million in fiscal 2008, which begins July 1, 2007, the state Corrections Department said.
    The state has not formally notified Wexford in writing— it must give the company a 150-day notice— but in telephone conversations with Wexford officials the state has expressed its dissatisfaction and the possibility of terminating the contract, Corrections Department spokeswoman Tia Bland said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
    The state, in fact, has started crafting a request for proposals that could go out in early 2007 seeking bids from other prison health care providers, Bland said.
    "We are working on the RFP now. We are developing it. We don't have a timeline for when it will actually go out," Bland said. "We are just in the initial stages. It's very preliminary."
    Wexford has faced hundreds of allegations in other states of providing inadequate care to inmates.
    It also has figured in some bad press in New Mexico over the past two years.
    Wexford's parent company, the Bantry Group, contributed $10,000 to one of Gov. Bill Richardson's political action committees in April 2004 as Wexford was seeking the four-year contract. Richardson returned the money.
    More recently, Richardson put Williams on leave after the Journal reported that the corrections chief had made 600 calls on his state-issued cell phone to a woman registered as a lobbyist for Wexford.
    The calls, made over a five-month period, were to Ann E. Casey, an assistant warden at a state prison in Centralia, Ill.
    During Wednesday's LFC meeting, Williams also told state lawmakers that his agency needs $10.9 million in additional funding to finish out the fiscal year that ends June 30 because of prison overcrowding.
    In addition to that supplemental funding request for this year, Williams' agency is asking for a $26.3 million increase for the fiscal year that starts July 1.


E-MAIL writer Trip Jennings