Connections Community Support Programs to exit Delaware prisons amid controversies
Connections Community Support Programs will no longer be the state's prison health care provider come next month.
Connections agreed to withdraw three months early from its $60 million in yearly contracts after another vendor was chosen to provide health care for the Delaware Department of Correction.
The withdrawal comes as the nonprofit has faced increased scrutiny that includes a state Justice Department investigation following reporting by Delaware Online/The News Journal.
Starting April 1, Centurion of Delaware LLC will provide medical and behavioral health care at the state's four prisons and its work release facilities. Centurion provides health care services to correctional systems in 15 states, including Maryland and Pennsylvania.
"Centurion was the unanimous choice," Delaware DOC Commissioner Claire DeMatteis said in a statement. "Centurion has deep experience providing quality medical care, behavioral health care, and substance abuse treatment services.
"It takes a special person to be a doctor, nurse, counselor or clinical support staff person in a prison and Centurion has a demonstrated track record of investing in training for medical professionals and continuous process improvement."
ChristianaCare report: Many issues in Delaware's prison health system remain unaddressed
The transition of DOC's correctional medical care and correctional behavioral health care contracts to Centurion will get underway immediately. Both three-year agreements with Centurion officially begin April 1 and can be followed by up to two optional two-year renewals.
"Centurion is pleased to partner with the Delaware Department of Correction, and we are committed to working with the DOC to improve the medical and behavioral healthcare, and substance use disorder treatment for individuals under DOC custody," Centurion CEO Steven H. Wheeler said in a statement. "We look forward to bringing our innovative staffing and care solutions to Delaware’s unified state correctional agency."
Under the old contract, Connections was paid $45 million for health care and $15 million for behavioral care.
Under the new contract, Centurion will get $47.8 million for health care and $21.1 million for behavioral care – so long as they are fully staffed.
The new contract will cost the state $8.9 million more than the previous one, but that’s mostly because Centurion will have different positions than Connections did.
“Where our current provider might have a nurse practitioner in the role, Centurion wants a physician,” DeMatteis said. “Where our current provider might have a psychologist with a masters degree, Centurion wants to fill that with a PhD psychologist.”
Centurion will also require technicians, who currently need only high school degrees, to now have at least an associate's degree. Centurion is also expected to hire about 60 more people.
As part of its proposal and contract, Centurion will establish a Delaware office, led by a vice president dedicated to the Delaware correctional services, the DOC said.
Four firms submitted proposals for the contract, including Connections, which has been the sole provider for behavioral health care in the Delaware DOC since 2012 and medical care since 2014.
The company, which also offers behavioral health and addiction services throughout Delaware, has seen an increase in lawsuits in recent years, including claims that Connections' workers allowed inmates to die in prison due to lack of health care.
ChristianaCare, which agreed to provide an independent review of the state's prison health care systems, found that despite years of recommendations focusing on problems in the DOC's health care system, many issues had not been addressed.
Take a recommendation from the Pew Charitable Trusts in 2017 that found Delaware "was one of 26% of states that did not report having a quality monitoring system and was among 17% of states that reported that vendor contracts did not include quality metrics."
ChristianaCare's report came after the Delaware Department of Justice said it was investigating Connections. That announcement came after The News Journal published an investigation into reports the contractor falsified records to conceal inadequate addiction treatment at Crest South, a taxpayer-funded substance abuse program for drug offenders in Georgetown.
Connections' co-founder and former CEO stepped down last year. In a press statement, Connections said Cathy McKay was planning on returning to the field.
Connections' Interim President and CEO William Northey said in Monday's announcement that Connections will continue to serve the Delaware community in its many capacities, as it has since it was established in the 1980s.
"It is with a heavy heart and mixed emotions that Connections Community Support Programs withdraws from this collaborative endeavor with DOC that has significantly benefited the citizens of Delaware for the last 8 years,” Northey said in a statement.
He called it a "significant challenge" to provide quality care inside prisons but noted that staff worked hard to offer quality services every day to inmates.
Centurion appears to have its own issues in the prison health care sphere and has faced legal trouble in numerous states, including lawsuits alleging wrongful deaths in prisons, allowing an inmate to give birth alone and lack of mental health care, according to reporting by the Arizona Republic. The company was brought in to Arizona to serve prisoners there last year.
When asked about these issues, DeMatteis said she could not comment as they did not occur in Delaware.
Contact investigative reporter Brittany Horn at (302) 324-2771 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @brittanyhorn and Esteban Parra at (302) 324-2299, email@example.com or Twitter @eparra3.