Seven years later, county jail still trying to fix problems with inmate health care

Fresno County Jail.
Fresno County Jail. Fresno Bee file

Fresno County supervisors approved contracts Tuesday with a Monterey-based health company to take over medical and psychiatric care of inmates at the county jail and the juvenile justice campus.

California Forensic Medical Group, Inc., will begin providing care July 1.

The five-year contract for jail services is for $121 million. CFMG will replace Corizon Health, which began providing services in June 2014. Fresno County hired Corizon, a Tennessee-based company, to provide jail health services after the county came under fire over inmates’ deaths and became the target of a federal lawsuit. The Bee's 2013 special report "Locked in Terror" chronicled issues with the county's jail medical and psychiatric services.

Last year, Corizon and the county were hit with a federal civil rights lawsuit in connection with the death of a 22-year-old inmate who committed suicide in the downtown jail in 2016. That case is pending, and the lawsuit was not a factor in the county seeking bids for jail health services, said Steve McComas, a Fresno County Sheriff's captain who is in charge of jail services.

But the current contract had to be updated for the jail to comply with a 2015 settlement of a federal lawsuit that was filed in 2011. The settlement dictates what jail services the county must provide, and McComas said: "We felt there were some things that were not in the contract going forward to meet all the criteria in the remedial plan to ensure we're doing what the federal court asks of us."

Staffing issues were among the concerns addressed in the new contract, McComas said. The contract in 2014 did not require 24-hour medical and mental health staffing, for example, he said.

Corizon said in a statement that it was disappointed a bid it submitted for the new contract came in second, but is proud of "our team and the progress we made toward meeting the requirements of the remedial plan."

In 2014, CFMG narrowly lost its jail medical bid when the county awarded a $98.8 million contract to Corizon.

This time, the county received bids from four companies including CFMG, Corizon, Wexford Health Sources of Pennsylvania and Correct Care Solutions of Tennessee. Wexford submitted a bid only for jail services, McComas said.

A selection committee chose CFMG, which provides services in 30 other jails in California, including the Madera County jail, he said. Crucial to the selection was CFMG's assurance that it would have employees for all shifts, he said. And it was the only bidder to provide methodone treatment for jail inmates. The county currently contracts with BAART Programs, a private company, for the treatment to reduce heroin withdrawal symptoms, he said.

CFMG expects to have 100 full-time employees at the jail and 26 at the juvenile justice campus. How many current Corizon employees will be retained is not known. Craig Diamond, a CFMG spokesman, said in an email that the company's goal is to "create the best team possible, and we typically retain the vast majority of the existing team members if they are a fit."

The supervisors also approved a separate $17 million, five-year contract with CFMG for medical and mental health services at the juvenile justice campus. The current contract covered both the jail and the juvenile justice campus.

"We won't be sharing resources," McComas said. "There will be dedicated staff for both facilities."

Barbara Anderson: 559-441-6310, @beehealthwriter