By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Two of the biggest contracts that Broward Sheriff Scott Israel will ever get to hand out – worth about $500 million over five years to the winning bidders – are scheduled for award this summer.
The big-money deals now moving through BSO’s procurement pipeline will provide comprehensive healthcare services to the county’s approximately 5,000 jail inmates, and group health insurance for BSO’s 5,800 employees.
The way things are unfolding offers a troublesome look at how the new sheriff’s administration does business.
Two months after Israel’s January swearing-in, BSO suddenly called off its initial solicitation for inmate healthcare services. The plug was pulled even though proposals had been received, opened and bidders shortlisted.
Purchasing bureau director Neesa B. Warlen explained the cancellation in correspondence to bidders by saying that BSO would be making changes to its request for letters of interest.
“We apologize for any inconvenience this change may cause,” Warlen said in a March 13 letter. A BSO spokeswoman said last week that those changes included the addition of a cost containment goal and language changes and clarifications.
BID PACKAGES BECOME PUBLIC
A major side effect of the cancellation was to make public highly detailed corporate pitches containing specific price proposals for the job of inmate healthcare provider. Competitors now had access to what had been sealed, confidential information about how much each other had bid.
For example, incumbent Broward jail provider Armor Correctional Health Services learned that it was not the lowest bidder on cost-conscious BSO’s shortlist.
Armor, owned by Miami physician Dr. Jose Armas, had offered to provide comprehensive medical, mental health and dental services to inmates for $145.6 million over five years. Nashville-based Correct Care Solutions said it would do the same job for $137.1 million. Naphcare, of Birmingham, Al., came in at $165.2 million.
Today, Armor, Correct Care, Naphcare are among seven bidders seeking the inmate healthcare contract. The others are Correctional Healthcare Company, Wexford Health Sources, Corizon Health and Diamond Drugs, which does business as Diamond Pharmacy Services.
The bidding is for a three year contract with two one year renewal periods. Bids were opened June 5, but by law the proposals are secret for 30 days or until BSO announces an intended decision. BSO has told those companies the selection committee will likely make a recommendation to the sheriff by the end of July.
Sheriff Israel added more intrigue to the mix with his February decision to hire Fort Lauderdale lobbyist William Rubin to represent the sheriff’s office at the county.
BSO pays The Rubin Group $7,000 a month. But Rubin is also being paid to represent two of BSO’s biggest vendors – Armor Correctional and Coventry Health Care, which provides group health insurance for BSO employees.
Like Armor, Coventry is expected to bid to keep its lucrative contract arrangement with BSO. The group insurance solicitation is for three years, with two one year extensions. It was issued June 7 and the due date for proposals is July 8.
The current annual cost for Coventry’s contract with BSO is $72 million, according to BSO. The contract expires at the end of the year.
Sheriff’s general counsel Ron Gunzburger, told BrowardBulldog.org that it was made “very clear” to Rubin that neither he nor his firm can “play any role in lobbying BSO” on behalf of Rubin’s other clients.
But BSO’s contract with Rubin is less clear. It does not prohibit Rubin from lobbying the sheriff on behalf of others, yet does require him to disclose when a client “has or may potentially have an interest adverse to the interest of the sheriff.”
Under Democrat Israel, BSO’s procurement process for inmate health care has an interesting political cast. One of the three persons named to the selection committee that will review the proposals and recommend a company to the sheriff is Dr. Nabil El Sanadi.
El Sanadi is BSO’s chief medical director and chief of emergency medicine for Broward Health. He’s also a big political contributor with ties to Gov. Rick Scott, who appointed him to the Florida Board of Medicine in 2011, and Broward Commissioner Chip LaMarca.
Records show that El Sanadi has given more than $80,000 to Republican candidates and causes since 2000. More than half of that money went to the Republican Party of Florida.
El Sanadi also appears to have a conflict of interest in his service on BSO’s selection committee because his other employer, Broward Health, wants Armor to get the contract.
Armor pays Broward Health to provide hospital and physician services to inmates – a relationship Armor wants to continue, according to its initial bid proposal that was made public after BSO canceled its first solicitation.
El Sanadi did not respond to a request for comment.
IS JENNE INVOLVED BEHIND THE SCENES?
Armor’s bid package included a letter of support from Broward Health Senior Vice President Robert K. Martin who called Armor “a good working partner.”
“Armor’s staff works well with all levels of our organization and claims payment is timely, something we do not take for granted,” Martin wrote in is Sept. 10 letter.
Armor’s contract was up in December. Today, BSO is extending it on a month-to-month basis.
Armor has provided healthcare to Broward’s jail inmates since 2004. Sheriff Ken Jenne, who went to prison in 2007 on corruption charges, awarded the company its first five-year contract, worth $127 million.
The deal was controversial because BSO changed bid requirements in ways that helped Armor win and because Armor’s owner, Dr. Armas, had been a major contributor to Jenne’s re-election campaign. Controversy continued when it came out later that Jenne had lobbied other sheriffs around the state on Armor’s behalf, including Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw.
While Jenne now operates a consulting company, De Groene Poort, several sources who know him said he’s recently worked behind the scenes with longtime pal William Rubin to help Armor prevail again at BSO.
Jenne, who was given a public welcome at BSO headquarters this year by Israel, did not respond to requests for comment.