CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - This weekend, we learned Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher may be moving forward with a plan to terminate the jail's contract with Corizon Health.
That company has been providing inmate healthcare for the last several years. It has also been the target of nearly a dozen civil lawsuits by jail employees and inmates who claim they suffered permanent injury or even death under Corizon's care. One thing Corizon's leave cannot do, is erase the past.
Accusations and lawsuits against Corizon Health have been coming out of the Chatham County Jail at rate that has had even county commissioners questioning the jail's choice of a heath care provider.
The election of Sheriff Wilcher may have been the beginning of the end of Corizon Health. This just weeks after another inmate died of heart failure after the family says Corizon waited days to get him the help he needed. Monday, even before officially filing suit, the family of Jimmy Alexander came forward begging for the community to end its tolerance of this jail's health care culture.
"When life after life is lost and question after question abounds, that's violence," said Attorney Chad Mance. "And so, it is an unsafe practice as a matter of public safety for us to allow any more inmates to die in the Chatham County Detention Center."
Commission Chairman Al Scott confirmed Monday morning, the county has been looking at half a dozen alternative jail health providers for months now. A source close to that process says the jail nurses were brought together last week and told a new vendor was on the way and that Corizon was out.
However, Sheriff Wilcher is not ready to talk about it until that new service provider has signed on and is approved.
Savannah attorney, Will Claiborne has filed half a dozen lawsuits against Corizon on behalf of injured deputies and the families of inmates who died in the Chatham County Jail, or suffered permanent injured while in the jail.
"They appear to be wanting to take a step in the right direction so that these things will hopefully stop happening in the future. We'll find out," said Claiborne. "The quality of care needs to improve, and whether that's Corizon doing a better job, or more money being appropriated, or a different company coming in, at the end of the day, all of our clients are concerned that what has happened to them or happened to their families, doesn't happen again."
Perhaps the greatest challenge for the county, if a new healthcare vendor is being brought in here at the jail, is considering a different, more pro-patient business model. Under Corizon, the county provided a lump sum of money, just over $5 million, and whatever Corizon didn't need for inmate care, it took home as profit. Some consider that model unethical at best, illegal at its worst.
"We would hope to see a change in the compensation model because," said Claiborne. "You're right, regardless of the size of the pot of money, if the profit and the costs are drawn from the same pot of money, you know which one is going to be sacrificed for the other."
And there appears to be a pool of Corizon Health patients in Chatham County just waiting for their chance to prove they too were at the wrong end of that alleged sacrifice.
The GBI is now investigating the Alexander case, with a family waiting anxiously for the results.
"We are going to be very aggressive about exacting the full depth and breathe of the laws, should any wrong doing be revealed," said Mance. "If any wrong doing is revealed, we are going to sue first and ask questions later."
WTOC tried several times over the weekend and Monday to reach out to Corizon Health for a comment. Corizon responded Tuesday with a statement:
As for the county's contract with Corizon, commissioners have not yet received a proposal from their staff. That could happen as early as Tuesday and could be on the commission agenda as early as Friday.
We are also told the new vendor hoping to provide healthcare in the future at the jail, is touring the facilities this week. We'll keep you up to date.
I am also told Sheriff Wilcher is not comfortable speaking publicly about his plans for inmate healthcare until a new vendor is in place. And the County Commission has not received any kind of proposal to put on their agenda as of Tuesday afternoon.
We'll let you know if that changes.