By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
The Broward Sheriff’s Office has refused to make public a list of federal and state lawsuits filed against its newly hired jail healthcare provider, citing a state law that protects trade secrets.
Correct Care Solutions LLC submitted its lengthy litigation history while bidding this spring for the sheriff’s inmate health care services contract. Florida Bulldog filed a public records request seeking the list, but BSO withheld 27 related pages.
BSO did not explain why it considers a list of publicly filed lawsuits to be exempt from disclosure under Florida’s Public Records Law.
Correct Care won the bidding for Broward’s inmate healthcare services contract in June. The contract’s initial term is for three years, but can be extended for up to five years for a total cost in excess of $160 million.
BSO cited trade secrets again in declining to release other information submitted by Correct Care as part of its proposal, including company financial statements as well as a list of “any state, federal, professional board or grand jury investigations, debarments, or license suspensions or restrictions regarding you, your principals, or anyone working on your behalf within the past seven years.”
BSO required bidders to provide information about lawsuits and investigations to help it evaluate their competency and honesty. Financial statements can show a bidder’s stability. Bid proposals were ranked by an internal BSO committee, but it was Sheriff Scott Israel who ultimately chose Tennessee-based Correct Care to replace Miami’s Armor Correctional Health Services.
Florida Bulldog sought access to the same material to evaluate privately held Correct Care’s claim to BSO that its “successful litigation history is directly reflective of the high standard of care we provide.” Also, the Bulldog wanted to examine what weight, if any, Sheriff Israel and his team gave to the hidden information before Israel decided to award the contract to Correct Care – a company with an otherwise grim history of accusations of substandard care, needless patient deaths and an ongoing federal grand jury investigation of possible corruption in its relationship with the Norfolk, VA sheriff’s office and a former sheriff.
Records withheld without explanation
In response to Bulldog’s request, BSO released in late June 277 pages from Correct Care’s proposal, but redacted dozens of other pages without citing any exemptions to Florida’s Public Records law as required to justify why those pages were withheld.
Asked to explain those withholdings, BSO contract manager Irene Costa in a July 28 email said Correct Care (CCS) asserted that all of its redacted pages were shielded from public scrutiny as trade secrets by Florida Statutes 815.045 and 812.081.
“CCS stands firm that litigation history is exempt, and BSO is not in a position to release that information at this time,” Costa wrote.
In contrast, outgoing inmate healthcare provider Armor Correctional agreed to the release of its litigation history back to 2011. The 13-page document BSO made public lists in excess of 375 lawsuits alleging malpractice and/or civil rights violations in federal and state courts in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Virginia. Many cases were filed by inmates without a lawyer and were dismissed. No cases were decided by a jury, while 41 cases were settled confidentially out of court. One hundred twenty cases were listed as pending.
BSO’s rationale to keep secret Correct Care’s redacted pages is erroneous and strikes at the heart of government oversight, according to Barbara Petersen, president of the Tallahassee-based First Amendment Foundation.
“You would expect that a healthcare company is going to get sued a lot. You would not expect them to keep it secret, and the fact that they are trying to keep it secret raises a lot of questions,” she said.
In the portion of its bid response that it did not seek to hide, Correct Care noted that “a certain amount of litigation is to be expected” for a company that is among the nation’s largest providers of correctional health care with more than 270,000 patients nationwide.
‘High quality of services’
“Nevertheless, we believe our litigation history reflects relatively modest losses for a business of our size and scope, and is indicative of the high quality of services we provide,” the company stated. It went on to note that most of the civil lawsuits filed against it are pro se, where the plaintiff/inmate is not represented by a lawyer. “Nearly all of these cases are ultimately dismissed with no finding of liability against CCS.”
Still, lawsuits against Correct Care elsewhere recently have made headlines.
In April 2017, the Associated Press reported that Pierce County, Washington had sued Correct Care alleging that its medical services to some inmates were “wholly inadequate.” The news service also reported that it had obtained a letter from a local prosecutor to a lawyer for Correct Care subsidiary Conmed, stating that a jury would find its operation of the county jail’s medical clinic to be “incompetent, unprofessional and morally reprehensible.”
In May 2018, the Omaha World-Herald reported that attorneys there had filed negligence and malpractice claims against the company and Nebraska’s Douglas County on behalf of 13 current and former inmates who they allege were denied proper medical treatment. In one case, an emaciated inmate just released from the county jail took a cab to his cousin’s home, but was so weak he could not make it to the front door, collapsed on the lawn and was taken by ambulance to a hospital. There, the paper said, Roger Cook, 55, learned what had made him so sick during the six months he had complained to his jailers: advanced lung cancer. Cook, who lost 64 pounds while incarcerated, died 10 days later.
Correct Care boasted about itself in the part of its Broward proposal about its finances. While electing to assert confidentially for its balance sheet and statement of operations, it claimed a “compound annual growth rate of 36 percent over the past five years.”
“This rapid growth, combined with proven business practices, makes CCS one of the most financially stable companies in the industry. We currently generate in excess of $1 billion in annualized revenue, along with a high level of operating cash flow. Our financial strength and leading industry position allow us to provide uninterrupted, consistent, and financially responsible programs for our clients.”
Correct Care went on to note that it is “partnered with three marquee equity investors” – The Audax Group, Frazier Healthcare and GTCR – that manage a combined $18.4 billion of investments and are “fully committed to supporting our company’s continued growth.”