By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
For 14 years, the Broward Sheriff’s Office has paid Miami’s Armor Correctional Health Services hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to provide healthcare services for Broward‘s jail inmates. The money flowed despite accusations of substandard care, indifference, political intrigue, malpractice and at least 15 needless deaths since 2010.
Today, BSO is again soliciting bids to provide jail healthcare services at the nation’s 13th largest jail system. And once again Armor Correctional is at the front of the line of companies looking to land the contract that’s worth about $135 million over the next five years.
Sealed proposals, originally due in late March, are now due by Thursday, April 26 at 3 p.m.
Armor Correctional, facing criminal charges of falsifying inmate healthcare records filed last month in Wisconsin, has evinced its determination to win. Chief Executive Bruce Teal, Chief Medical Officer Dr. John P. May and seven other Armor officials were among 10 prospective corporate bidders on hand for a pre-bid site visit to BSO on Feb. 26.
The other companies include large for-profits with their own checkered histories of providing medical care for inmates: Corizon, Correct Care, Centurion, NaphCare and Wexford.
Not up for consideration: ending the controversial cost-cutting practice of outsourcing constitutionally-mandated healthcare services for Broward’s inmates.
Still, no matter who wins BSO’s fat contract, questions about jail care are likely to continue. To address the problem, BSO must initiate “robust” oversight of the jail’s doctors and nurses, according to a Fort Lauderdale attorney who represents relatives of inmates who have died due to negligent medical care.
‘No incentive to fix problems’
“BSO has turned a blind eye because there’s a perverse financial incentive for the sheriff,” said Greg Lauer. “No matter what happens in the jail BSO never has to pay a dime. Armor pays 100 percent, even though the sheriff is ultimately responsible. They’ve set up a system here where they have no incentive to fix problems.”
Meanwhile, Armor Correctional’s politically savvy president and owner Dr. Jose Armas has laid the political groundwork for continued success. Armas’ companies and Teal contributed $7,000 total to Sheriff Scott Israel’s 2016 re-election campaign. And Armas retains the services of influential Fort Lauderdale lobbyist William “Billy” Rubin, who also happens to be the sheriff’s lobbyist (and Gov. Rick Scott’s friend).
But will it be enough for Armor to extend its Broward win streak?
According to BSO’s request for letters of interest, approximately 37,000 inmates are booked into BSO’s four detention facilities every year. The average daily jail population in 2017 was about 4,000, down considerably from years past. BSO remains under a decades-old federal consent decree put in place to address overcrowding, mental health treatment and other matters.
BSO’s bid document says it expects to award a single contract for comprehensive inmate healthcare services – including medical, dental mental health and pharmacy, as it has in the past with Armor. The base contract would be for three years, which BSO could extend for two more years. Still, BSO specifically reserves the right to award separate contracts if it is deemed to be in “BSO’s best interest.” That likely accounts for the interest of other prospective bidders like Diamond Pharmacy Services.
Proposals will be evaluated and ranked by a BSO purchasing committee. Sheriff Israel will decide who gets the contract. In 2013, without explaining why, he chose Armor even though its bid was more than $13 million higher over five years than that of low bidder Corizon.
Less inmates, more pay
Last Nov. 30, contemplating that BSO would soon re-bid a multi-year contract, Israel quietly amended Armor Correctional’s contract to give it the jail’s healthcare business for another five months, through June 30, when the new multi-year contract is expected to be in place. He also awarded Armor tidy pay raises of up to five percent. Armor’s final annual rate works out to about $27.4 million.
Armor’s pay went up even though Broward’s jail population has dropped dramatically. In June 2014, Broward told the state that its average daily jail population was 4,560. In November 2017, Broward’s average daily jail population had dipped to 3,921, state records show.
To award Armor another multi-year contract Sheriff Israel will have to put aside some troubling company history.
Florida Bulldog has identified 15 Broward inmates since 2010 who died while under Armor’s care due to allegedly poor care or indifference. That includes a trio of inmates who died in April and May 2016.
The deaths of Scott Burrell, Stephen Obremski and April Ann Farrah led Armor to fire Dr. Stanley Frankowitz, an Armor physician since Sheriff Ken Jenne brought the company into the jail in 2004, launching Armor’s success.
“In the position of infirmary physician, you are responsible for providing care to our most seriously ill patients,” says the May 26, 2016 termination notice that Frankowitz signed. “You failed to follow our policy and procedure regarding infirmary admission and appropriately leveling patients. In three recent cases, you failed to recognize critical signs/symptoms and order patients to the hospital for an appropriate level of care. For the aforementioned reasons your employment is being terminated.”
Frankowitz is gone from Armor, but his license to practice medicine is still listed as “clear/active” by the Florida Department of Health. That means Frankowitz is free to practice until his license expires in March 2020. The state’s online practitioner profile for Frankowitz doesn’t mention the three deaths or his termination.
Frankowitz, a Weston resident, did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
Armor booted by New York
In October 2016, New York kicked Armor Correctional out of that state saying it had placed “inmates’ health in jeopardy.” The company paid $350,000 in penalties and agreed not to bid on or enter into any New York contracts for three years to settle charges brought by the state’s attorney general. The charges were filed after a dozen inmates died since Armor was hired to provide medical services at the Nassau County Correctional Center, including five determined to have received inadequate medical care. An Armor spokeswoman said the company made a “business decision” to pull out of New York three years before the settlement.
Then there is the matter of the seven criminal counts of falsifying inmate healthcare records in Wisconsin. The charges, filed Feb. 21, allege that Armor, through its employees, doctored records concerning four inmates, including one who died while in custody in the Milwaukee County Jail.
Terrill Thomas, 38, “was locked in his cell without water from April 17, 2016 until he died of dehydration on the night of April 23-24, 2016,” the criminal complaint says.
Armor’s medical personnel were aware that guards were punishing the mentally ill Thomas for stopping up the toilet in his cell and causing flooding, but did nothing. Further, they fabricated records to make it appear as if they had been medically assessing him, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
An Armor spokeswoman has said the company intends to defend all claims and noted that the criminal charges are “not a reflection of Armor’s culture.’’
If convicted, Armor could be fined up to $25,000 per count.