Michigan prison healthcare to be slashed under new contract, competitor claims

Apr. 13—LANSING — The company that currently provides health care and pharmacy services for Michigan's 27 prisons says a competitor that's poised to take over the contract will "slash" staffing and bring "dramatic cuts to mental health services."

Attorney Peter Ruddell, who's representing Tennessee-based Corizon Health, made the claims in an April 2 letter to Jared Ambrosier, interim chief procurement office for the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget. The Detroit News obtained the letter ahead of an 11 a.m. Tuesday meeting where the State Administrative Board could give final approval to a new $590-million, five-year deal with Grand Prairie Healthcare Services.

Wellpath, which describes itself as the nation's largest provider of correctional health care, is the Tennessee-based Grand Prairie's "management services organization," according to a filing with the state. The proposal for the new contract featured the logos of both Wellpath and Grand Prairie, which has a minimal online presence.

Wellpath spokeswoman Judy Lilley declined Monday to address the claims raised by Ruddell.

"When the Michigan administrative board makes a final award, we will be in a position to consider commenting," Lilley said. "Until that time, we await the board's decision."

The contract is not focused on the number of staff provided but the services provided, said Chris Gautz, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections.

"As long as the work is getting done, that is what the contract is based on," Gautz said.

In February, the Department of Technology, Management and Budget's central procurement services office recommended the contract go to Grand Prairie, which the office said offered "the best value."

Grand Prairie received a higher score for its staffing plan from the state than did Corizon, the company that has has held the contract for more than decade. Grand Prairie's proposal was also about $51 million cheaper.

On staffing for general health, psychiatric health and pharmacy services, Grand Prairie received a score of 36 out of 38 from procurement officials, and Corizon received a score of 31 out of 38.

Gautz said Grand Prairie must feel like it can provide the level of required services with the staffing level proposed, Gautz said. If it doesn't provide the timely care required, there will be financial penalties, he said.

But Grand Prairie has offered the state 16% fewer physicians, 14% fewer mid-level practitioners and 29% fewer psychiatrists than Corizon offered, according to Ruddell's letter.

Grand Prairie "has also shifted the distribution of mental health care from licensed psychiatrists to mid-level providers," Ruddell said. About 30% of mental health services would be performed by mid-level providers under Corizon's proposal, but under Grand Prairie's proposal, the number jumps to 69%, the Corizon representative wrote.

"Now is not the time to slash the number of health care providers offering treatment to prisoners," Ruddell wrote on April 2. "As the state is well aware, prisoners are among the populations most vulnerable to COVID-19, which has infected more than 26,000 Michigan inmates and killed 139 Michigan prisoners since March 2020."

There is "absolutely no way" to justify the staffing score received by Grand Prairie, "who proposes to slash overall staffing," he wrote.

"GPHS's staffing plan in no way should have been considered a positive in determining whether GPHS provided 'the best value to the state' — which, surely, includes the State's incarcerated residents," Ruddell said.

Ruddell also accused Wellpath of hiding behind a non-responsible bidder and shielding itself from the liability risks.

If the State Administrative Board gives the final approval to the contract with Grand Prairie on Tuesday, the Michigan Department of Corrections will begin working with the company. The first full day of health care service from Grand Prairie would be Sept. 29, Gautz said.