Sheriff says she’s hamstrung in finding replacement for jail medical provider

Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano says she has been hamstrung by the county and current jail medical provider, Wellpath.
Published: Apr. 1, 2023 at 10:27 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 2, 2023 at 1:56 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano says she has been hamstrung by the county and current jail medical provider, Wellpath, in making sure the 1000-plus inmates at the jail are in good hands.

This comes after several recent inmate deaths and political pressure mounting against the sheriff’s office this past week.

“They’re basing their decision on money and not on the quality of care,” Graziano said “And the people in this building are members are our community. They deserve the same level of care that they would get if they were not in this facility. We cannot cut corners on that.”

Though the sheriff’s office runs the jail, it is the county that signs off on the contracts.

This includes the latest one still up for grabs to replace the current jail medical provider, Wellpath.

Graziano says she did not want to go through this procurement process but was forced to.

When the county requested during a meeting last month that the three applicants be asked about a specific electronic medical records software that would allow for continuity in care, that never happened.

She says the contract is worth at least $10 million dollars.

“I think that the frustration is they don’t listen to us and they haven’t listened to us,” she said. “We’re pointing fingers at providers, yet we’re not doing anything to resolve the issue because if we’re going to ask for the same thing, we’re going to get what we’ve got, and to me [that] is insanity.”

Meanwhile, Graziano says they have also struggled to get Wellpath to cooperate.

The company has provided services to Charleston County since 2020 before Graziano took office.

Kip Hallman, the president of Wellpath, sent a letter on Jan. 27 to the Charleston County Procurement Director Barrett Tolbert, raising issues about the safety and security of the jail, which Hallman said was making it hard for their staff to do their jobs properly.

In a statement, the company claimed they made the “difficult decision” to cut ties with the jail citing the letter.

“They’re not invited back,” Graziano said. “And honestly, I don’t think even if they wanted to be back, we wouldn’t entertain that.”

The letter came after the sheriff’s office staff wrote 57 “non-conformance reports” about Wellpath’s services.

A spokesman for the company most recently accused the agency of cherry-picking the dozens of emails that were released on Thursday.

The Charleston County Council also wrote that the agency had not been transparent in its letter asking the DOJ to investigate the jail.

“We didn’t pick and choose what emails we sent; we sent all the communications,” Graziano said.

The council is expected to take a final vote on awarding the contract Tuesday evening. The finance committee voted to approve the recommendation of VitalCore Health Strategies on March 30.

“The solution is for the county to back up and punt and to accept our recommendation not to accept that proposal,” Graziano said. “If they insist on us sending out another RFP, then we’ll do it and we’ll invite MUSC to do to the table this time. We can do this if we stop pointing fingers and start working together. It’s pretty simple.”

The sheriff also addressed the coroner’s report about D’Angelo Brown.

Medical personnel recommended he be hospitalized twice before he was found unresponsive in his cell. Graziano says it was her staff that made those recommendations, but getting an inmate to the hospital is up to Wellpath.

“So there’s always going to be reluctance,” she said. “Because if I can care for them here at a very limited budget, why would I send them to a hospital? I’m gonna have to pay for that care. We’re not paying for it. They are.”

Incident reports detail Brown was covered in his own filth for months during his stay at the jail. E-coli sepsis was the cause of death and it was ruled a homicide by medical neglect.

Graziano also says that Brown could have been moved to the infirmary, but was not.

That decision is up to Wellpath staff as well.

The sheriff also added that they are seeing a public health crisis playing out in jails across the country, where the patients are younger and sicker.

“The medical assisted treatment is essential, it’s essential,” she said. “...It’s a game changer for jails across the country, and it’s nonexistent right now, and it’s not because our mental health doesn’t want to do it. It’s we can’t get cooperation from a current provider. So we need to up the game. We need to expect that from the next provider.”

She said the solution is simple: stop pointing fingers and work together. She has vowed to continue to voice her concerns about the county’s choices in the matter.