Beleaguered inmate health care provider has powerful ally in Springfield
The current provider of medical and mental health services for Illinois prison inmates, Wexford Health, has, by any measure, an unhealthy track record: the Pittsburgh-based company recently was sued in Illinois and Mississippi, and fired in Florida.
With the Illinois Department of Corrections rebidding its contract, Wexford is hoping lobbyist Nancy Kimme will tip the scales in its favor.
The longtime Illinois Republican operative has had startling success securing state contracts for clients since ending 25 years of state government work, in one role or another, in February, 2015.
In less than three years, Kimme’s clients have received 2,878 state contracts worth nearly $17 billion, due in part to her efforts, according to an analysis by Prairie State Wire.
Kimme's clients span the spectrum politically and across business sectors. She lobbies for Republican and Democrat interests and, for example, both energy and environmental concerns.
Clients include software vendors, construction companies, local governments and social service providers. Some are competitors; hospitals and Medicaid-funded health insurance providers chasing the same state dollars, for instance. She lobbies for businesses seeking regulatory relief and labor unions seeking more regulations.
And it’s all legal. Under Illinois state law, few former state employees are forbidden to lobby immediately upon leaving their government jobs. The ones who are, those overseeing contracting, regulatory or licensing authority, are barred from lobbying for a year.
Legislation (SB 615) that would have barred any state employee from lobbying for a year after leaving their jobs went nowhere this year.
Even with all her connections, Kimme has a tough sell with Wexford, however.
In late April, a federal judge certified the class in a lawsuit against Wexford and the Illinois Department of Corrections. The plaintiff in Lippert v. Godinez, which began in 2010, claims that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs resulting from Type 1 diabetes. Other inmates and their families, alleging insufficient care, later joined the lawsuit.
That same month, the Florida Department of Corrections canceled a contract with Wexford, citing shortcomings in mental health services at a south Florida prison.
In her decision, Florida Secretary of Corrections Julie Jones pointed to a scathing review from the Correctional Medical Authority about "the apparent lack of psychotropic medications prescribed and administered" to most of the patients receiving mental health services at a Doral facility.
And in February, Mississippi filed civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act lawsuits against Wexford Health and 10 other corporate and individual conspirators in a prison bribery scandal.
Wexford has also had problems in Illinois involving nurses reticent to work for the company, according to Alice Johnson, executive director of the Illinois Nurses Association.
“Most would not have worked for Wexford,” she told Prairie State Wire.
The Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) issued a request for proposal (RFP) in January for comprehensive medical and mental health services for approximately 50,000 inmates
The bid period has been extended numerous times with a DOC spokesperson saying that the department still had no developments to report on the timing for an award of the contract.
DOC further declined to say what prompted the RFP or whether a change has been made to the 10-year, $1.36 billion deal the state signed with Wexford in 2011.
Rich Bossert, spokesman for Illinois Central Management Services, said only that “nothing is common or uncommon with procurement.”