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Fight erupts over plan to stop outsourcing prison health care in Virginia

$90 million contract at center of lobbying blitz
A picture of the assisted living ward at Deerfield Correctional Center that the Virginia...
A picture of the assisted living ward at Deerfield Correctional Center that the Virginia Department of Corrections shared with lawmakers in 2019. The prison, which houses some of the state’s most medically fragile inmates, has seen a major COVID-19 outbreak.(Virginia Department of Corrections)
Published: Nov. 18, 2021 at 9:33 AM EST
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When the head of Virginia’s prison system announced to staff members this summer that he planned to end the practice of outsourcing medical care to a private contractor, his memo to employees suggested the decision was final.

Armor Health, the Florida-based company that suddenly faced the prospect of losing its $90-million contract to staff prisons with doctors and nurses, had other ideas.

Records show the company embarked on a months-long campaign to override Department of Corrections Director Harold Clarke, at times flaunting the sway the company believes it holds with lawmakers.

“(Armor CEO Otto Campo) does not believe this battle is over by any stretch!” wrote Matthew Berg, an executive with the company, in an email last month to a DOC official. The email informed the department that Armor had “been assured by both governor candidates that they also do not support the actions of VADOC and will proceed to intervene after the election.”

The dispute, which has raised eyebrows in Richmond, offers an unusually candid window into the intersection between politics and high-dollar government contracts.

Armor provides medical care to prisoners in about half of the state’s 40 prisons, with state-employed staff providing care in the other half. The state has traditionally turned to outsource to provide medical care in harder-to-staff rural institutions and those with more intensive medical needs, such as infirmaries, but as health care costs have continued to rise, audits have suggested state officials reconsider the arrangement.

Publicly, the Department of Corrections had spoken favorably of Armor, calling the relationship a “long and productive partnership” even in the memo announcing plans to end the contract. But internal DOC documents suggest the decision to de-privatize followed frustration with understaffing, escalating contract costs and years of litigation over the quality of medical care provided at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, which was the site of dozens of inmate deaths.

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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