Maryland is set to begin reimbursing the company that provides health care to state prison inmates for coronavirus-related expenses, on top of its existing five-year, $680 million contract with the state.
Corizon Correctional Healthcare had negotiated an emergency deal with state corrections officials to receive an additional $3.2 million per month related to the costs of managing and preventing cases of COVID-19, but the state Board of Public Works on Wednesday rejected that agreement and will require the company to instead document and seek reimbursement for itemized expenses tied to the pandemic.
There have been 398 coronavirus cases and seven deaths among inmates at state and county corrections facilities, and 477 cases and one death among staff, according to a state coronavirus dashboard.
Comptroller Peter Franchot, one of three members of the state spending board, raised concern that a flat 30% increase to Corizon’s contract over the next six months did not allow for enough accountability. After lengthy discussions with state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services officials, the board’s other two members — Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, standing in for Gov. Larry Hogan — agreed.
Franchot questioned why the company would receive a flat $3.2 million a month when infection rates in Maryland prisons, with a population of more than 18,000 inmates, have been below state projections from early on in the pandemic, and lower than in other states.
“Why are we sticking with $3.2 million if, in fact, thankfully, there was less of a problem than we thought?” Franchot asked.
Robert L. Green, the state corrections secretary, said his department had been conservative in estimating the potential costs of hospitalizing coronavirus-infected inmates, and that for some, two weeks of hospital care have cost about $300,000 each. He said five inmates are currently hospitalized, and 12 others are being cared for in “surge” facilities in Jessup and Baltimore.
And Green warned that the costs of caring for inmates could skyrocket beyond the agreed-upon $3.2 million if new large outbreaks occur in state prisons, especially now that Maryland courts are in the process of reopening.
“One can only predict that it creates a strong potential for an increase, while we are trying to mitigate at every one of those turns,” Green said.
Philip Andrews, a lobbyist representing Corizon, defended the need for more spending to care for inmates and prevent more cases and deaths. He said the company was in the midst of efforts to increase staffing from deficits that a previous contractor left behind when the pandemic hit. Corizon took over the contract from Wexford Health Sources in 2018.
Speaking to the board on behalf of Wexford, lobbyist Bruce Bereano on Wednesday suggested Corizon had underbid its costs when landing the contract and was now “using COVID to try and get that money they could not get previously.”