What’s in a name? When you want to rebrand a toxic product, try calling it something it obviously isn’t, such as a path to wellness. Already the country’s largest private provider of healthcare to inmates, in November 2018, Correct Care Solutions, based in Nashville, merged with a smaller operation to form a new company called Wellpath. A more apropos moniker is “Substandard Care.”
Every day, Wellpath is responsible for the healthcare of some 300,000 people, including 6,000 juveniles. For 2019, Wellpath’s projected revenue is $1.5 billion.
In June 2019, CNN broke a story about the poor outcomes and deaths resulting from the substandard care provided by CCS in prisons and jails nationwide. According to the report, based on internal documents and interviews with 50 current and former CCS employees, the company regularly hired inexperienced personnel to work in jails and prisons, and left facilities severely understaffed. Definite patterns emerged, including:
- Failure to diagnose serious and life-threatening illnesses
- Denying necessary emergency room transfers
- Failure to treat or recognize severe psychiatric disorders
- Allowing ordinary infections to become fatal.
Many of these failures are based on CCS’ focus on cost containment, meaning profits were far more important than providing health care. Over the past five years, more than 70 wrongful death lawsuits were filed against CCS. That doesn’t take into consideration the many lawsuits filed against the company by patients experiencing ongoing complications, pain and suffering, and a lower life expectancy due to CCS’ actions.
Take the case of Henry Clay Stewart, 60, an inmate at Virginia’s Hampton Roads Regional Jail. In 2016, he was in jail on a probation violation based on an incident occurring five years earlier. For nearly a month, he begged to be sent to the emergency room, as he dealt with constant stomach pain and the inability to keep down food. “Help me before it is too late,” one of his notes stated. It was too late –Stewart died from a perforated ulcer, a condition a doctor reviewing his records said would not have proved fatal had CCS treated Stewart promptly.
Then there are the two men who died within weeks of each other in North Carolina’s Forsyth County Jail. Deshawn Lamont Coley requested his asthma inhaler, stating that without it his life was at risk.
At his booking, Stephen Antwan Patterson had a sky-high blood pressure reading, which should have led to emergency attention. It didn’t, and he was found dead a week later. A few hundred dollars in unpaid child support had landed him in jail. Access to an inhaler and hypertension treatment would have saved their lives, but CCS did nothing.
Current and former employees who spoke with CNN said workers shredded medical requests from inmates because of understaffing. Sometimes, such requests were simply stuck in a drawer and ignored.
Government Agency Criticism
It’s not that most facilities hiring Wellpath to care for inmates think the company is doing a good job, because they don’t. Documents obtained by CNN from Sherriff’s Offices and other agencies responsible for contracting out healthcare for inmates criticize CSS.
A New York State Commission on Correction report tells the story of an inmate with chest pains whose complaint was mismanaged by CSS, resulting in his death. A Texas facility wrote that there was a backlog of 80 inmates awaiting psychiatric care, and inmates had to wait two weeks to see a dentist.
A Clark County, Washington official states, “It is painfully obvious that there is a disconnect somewhere in the communication process at the corporate level or other levels of management at CCS.”
Inmates Deserve Better
Many of the inmates who died or suffered unnecessarily at the hands of CCS or Wellpath were in jail on minor charges. They are often stuck there because they are too poor to post bail. Rather than paying a fine or serving a short sentence in what should have been a worst-case scenario for their crimes, they pay with long-term health consequences or their lives. It is unconscionable, and Wellpath has their blood on its corporate hands.
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