JUDY D.J. ELLICH
DAILY AMERICAN REPORTER
10:23 PM EDT, July 16, 2013
The Somerset County commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday to approve a three-year, $1.2 million contract with PrimeCare Medical for jail inmate medical services.
PrimeCare has been the medical provider at the jail since 2004. The county spends about $430,000 a year for the company's services. The company's five-year contract expired in December, at which time the commissioners asked the company for a three-month extension. The county put out a call for proposals and received three responses, including one from PrimeCare.
Commissioners John Vatavuk and Pamela Tokar-Ickes said that of the two remaining contenders, PrimeCare and Southern Health Partners, PrimeCare had the best proposal, even though its total cost was higher.
Commissioner Joe Betta disagreed and voted no.
"The bottom line is Southern Health Partners' bid is lower," he said. The company's bid was $1.04 million.
Tokar-Ickes said the actual coverage per hour and PrimeCare's offerings made its proposal more attractive.
PrimeCare has been a hot and oftentimes contentious subject with the commissioners.
In March an investigation began after Betta went to the jail to talk to employees about PrimeCare. He said he wanted to decide if he should vote to renew the company's contract.
While he was there, employees told him about sexual harassment unrelated to his inquiry into PrimeCare. During his inquiry he also heard from two PrimeCare employees who alleged that the health care provider failed to take appropriate action against employees for wrongdoing that included falsifying records.
The Somerset Borough Police Department was asked to investigate. The board voted to extend the contract with PrimeCare Medical on a month-by-month basis until the investigation was complete.
The department released the results of its investigation in early July. Allegations of wrongdoing against PrimeCare were pursued and dismissed because the health care provider, which had conducted its own investigation into the allegations, declared it was not a victim, according to the report.
"I have no proof of the allegations that have been raised against PrimeCare," Tokar-Ickes said.
On June 5 the borough police brought indecent assault and harassment charges against Ronald Edward Lensbouer, 44, Friedens, a corrections officer. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 6 before District Judge Ken Johnson of Somerset.
Alice McCartney, a former PrimeCare employee at the jail, attended Tuesday's meeting because she wanted to hear the commissioners' reasons for keeping the medical provider.
"I was not satisfied with the outcome. I think there should be a different health care provider in the jail," McCartney said after the meeting in a telephone interview.
"It is outrageous," he said.
Vatavuk said that PrimeCare has been good for the county.
"They have had some problems," he said. "They have admitted they had problems. They've changed employees and solved the problems."
Tokar-Ickes said it is time to move forward.
"We need to turn the page," she said. "Our jail has gone through a very difficult time over the last six months. We have to move on."