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Hillsborough sheriff ditches longtime jail health provider

Published Sep. 12, 2014

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has cut ties with the longtime provider of health care services to its jail facilities, awarding a $20 million contract to a new company.

As of Oct. 1, NaphCare, a Birmingham, Ala. company, will provide medical care to inmates in the county's jails on Falkenburg and Orient roads.

NaphCare's bid, awarded Wednesday, means the Sheriff's Office will part ways with Armor Correctional Health Services, which has provided medical care to Hillsborough jail inmates for the past decade.

"It was time to test the market and see what was out there," said Hillsborough sheriff's Col. Kenneth Davis, who oversees jail operations. "NaphCare just had a better model … for the delivery of health care. They are quick to identify and treat the needs of inmates."

The Sheriff's Office solicited bids from seven private health care providers, including Armor Correctional, Davis said. The bidding process included written proposals and oral presentations from company officials.

NaphCare won after sheriff's officials toured facilities in Clark County, Nev., where NaphCare runs the local jail. The company also provides services to numerous jail and prison facilities throughout the country, including federal prisons in Pensacola, Marianna and Tallahassee. The company is in the process of moving into Hillsborough's jail facilities in advance of the October start date, Davis said.

Among the things that impressed the bid committee was the company's use of electronic medical records to keep track of each inmate's health needs, Davis said. Currently, the Sheriff's Office uses a paper system.

"It brings us out of the stone age," he said.

The decision to ditch Armor Correctional Health Services comes after a year that has seen the company endure repeated public relations crises in the Tampa Bay area.

In July 2013, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Armor had quietly paid $800,000 to settle a wrongful death claim by the children of Allen Hicks, a popular youth baseball coach. Hicks had lain on the floor of Hillsborough County jail cells for 36 hours before he was diagnosed with a severe stroke, and later died at Tampa General Hospital.

The Sheriff's Office paid an additional $200,000 legal settlement as a result of the incident. In its aftermath, the Sheriff's Office demanded that the top-ranking Armor administrator at the jail, Lewis Hays, be removed from the facility because of his questionable handling of Hicks' medical records.

Armor then provoked the ire of Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri earlier this year when it installed Hays as the administrator of its fledgling contract at the Pinellas County Jail.

In May, Gualtieri announced that his agency was canceling the contract with Armor, which began with limited services on a trial basis, because of problems with how the company was managing inmate care. Among other issues, Gualtieri said, Armor was not treating patients in a timely manner.

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Armor issued a written statement in response to its loss of the Hillsborough jail contract. In it, the company pointed to a client satisfaction survey that it said showed most clients considered Armor to be better than its competitors.

"Armor strives to deliver excellent patient care each and every day, no different than the finest teaching hospitals in our country," the company's statement read. "And, like those outstanding hospitals, occasionally even great care results in an unintended outcome. Armor's dedicated staff of providers has had very few such outcomes during our time at HCSO … a record of which even the best hospitals would be proud."

Davis declined to say if the Sheriff's Office specifically went with another company because they were unhappy with Armor Correctional.

"It's $20 million of the public's money," he said. "We have an obligation to see what's out there."

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