County finalizes $7.4M contract for new jail medical provider

Staffing budget increased, as well as required insurance coverage
Charleston County has finalized a deal with a new jail medical provider for a total annual cost of $7.4 million.
Published: May. 12, 2023 at 3:41 PM EDT|Updated: May. 13, 2023 at 1:54 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston County has finalized a deal with a new jail medical provider for a total annual cost of $7.4 million.

VitalCore Health Strategies, based in Kansas, is now officially scheduled to take over for Wellpath starting on July 1, with the transition period beginning 30 days prior.

Procurement director Barrett Tolbert and Chief Executive Officer of VitalCore Health Strategies Viola Riggin signed off on the deal on May 8.

When compared to the former contract, VitalCore’s services will cost taxpayers around $78,745.94 more each month. The individual cost per inmate per day is estimated to be $18.45, based on a population size of 1,100 inmates.

Though lower in clinical costs than Wellpath, VitalCore’s predecessor, its rate for staffing will cost $103,747.05 more a month, for an annual cost of $5.26 million. That accounts for 71% of the total contract amount.

Wellpath’s staffing only represented 62% of its total annual cost.

The county originally budgeted $9.9 million for the new contract, county spokesperson Kelsey Barlow said. Barlow says the increase in costs from the prior vendor will have no impact on the budget.

The contract is good for one year and can be renewed up to five additional years.

In early April, county council approved VitalCore’s selection out of three total bidders by unanimous vote despite vocal objections from Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano.

In a statement released today the department writes:

“CCSO is looking forward to working with the new provider, VitalCore, to ensure access to quality medical care for all Detention Center residents.”

The current contractor, Wellpath, has come under scrutiny following several inmate deaths. At least eight inmates have died since it began providing services at the jail in July 2020.

In Charleston County it is facing three medical malpractice lawsuits, including ones filed by the families of Jamal Sutherland and most recently D’Angelo Brown.

Brown was an inmate who died after his health rapidly declined during four months of incarceration and denied medical care, his family’s lawyers say.

A new provision in the contract also requires VitalCore to carry medical professional liability insurance of $4 million per occurrence and $12 million overall.

This is an increase from previous requirements for $1 million per occurrence and $3 million overall.

In documents provided to the county, VitalCore wrote that it had no policy with more than $7 million for overall coverage.

The county is now “awaiting on the insurance certificate” for this required coverage, county spokesperson Kaitlin Jordan confirmed.

VitalCore also stated that it had “found the limits of $2,000,000/$4,000,000 to be more than adequate, particularly based on our excellent track record regarding litigation.”

The company has been the subject of more than two dozen federal lawsuits filed in several states including Mississippi, Missouri, Vermont, Michigan, Virginia and Idaho. In 2019, the company also faced a negligence and medical malpractice lawsuit for the death of an inmate in New Mexico.

VitalCore Health Strategies provided the following statement:

VitalCore Health Strategies maintains an excellent track record with one of the lowest, if not the lowest, rate of litigation in the correctional healthcare industry. We are proud of our track record and our focus on providing quality patient care in a difficult and litigious environment. We have had very few lawsuits that have resulted in any settlement and all but a handful of those have been for nominal amounts. We cannot speak to the specifics of any particular case due to patient confidentiality, HIPAA laws, and court restrictions.

VitalCore’s contract with Charleston County includes increased staffing levels to ensure quality care is provided to the increasing acuity of the resident population, an enhanced Medication Assisted Treatment Program, and competitive wages to ensure quality health care staff will be hired and retained.