Judge orders no change – for now – in Missouri’s prisoner health care contractor

Judge Daniel Green said he will rule on lawsuit challenging selection of Centurion Health by Nov. 8

By: - September 7, 2021 4:43 pm

The Cole County Courthouse in Jefferson City (Tessa Weinberg/Missouri Independent).

Work to bring a new contractor for prisoner health care services online in Missouri can continue but the actual transition from Corizon, the current provider, won’t occur until at least early November, Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green ordered Tuesday.

Green issued a temporary restraining order blocking the state from canceling its contract with Corizon during the next 15 days and stated in the order that he didn’t want any changes to the status quo until he rules after a trial scheduled to start Nov. 3.

The contract was originally scheduled to end June 30, with Centurion Health taking over from Corizon. But it was extended to Oct. 31 after Corizon first protested the contract award and, when that was denied, filed a lawsuit alleging improper scoring and discriminatory treatment in the evaluation process.

The current extension includes a clause allowing the state to cancel it at any time. The state has not issued a notice of cancellation and, during a hearing last week, did not indicate it intended to cancel it before it expires.

“There would be no harm to the state or any other party if the state enters a TRO enjoining the state from canceling the contract,” Green wrote.

Green’s order bars the state from doing so for 15 days, the longest a temporary restraining order may be in place by law. With a trial set for Nov. 3, he wrote, he cannot enter an order blocking cancelation through that date.

“But the court is currently inclined to issue a temporary injunction on or around November 1 in order to allow time for trial on the merits, set for November 3, 2021, with a final judgment  completed no later than Nov. 8, 2021,” Green wrote.

The triangular litigation includes Corizon, which has held the prisoner health care contract since the Department of Corrections went to a private vendor in 1992, suing the Division of Purchasing within the Office of Administration, which scored the five proposals from vendors, and Centurion, which intervened to protect its interest in the contract.

Corizon is accusing Centurion of filing false and misleading documents as part of its bid for the contract, which would pay up to $1.4 billion if the state picks up the options to continue it for seven years. It wants the state to throw out all five bids submitted in the spring and seek new proposals.

Corizon did not respond to an email seeking comment on the decision. The attorney general’s office, which is representing the purchasing division and opposed the temporary restraining order, declined to comment. 

Green’s order adopts many of the points in the proposed order filed by Centurion, but instead of a $1 million bond to proceed, orders Corizon to deposit $93,750 with the court.

Attorney Chuck Hatfield, who represents Centurion, said he was most pleased with the notice Green gave in the ruling that he will issue a decision by Nov. 8. 

“That’s great,” Hatfield said. “We would like to get this resolved quickly and we are glad the judge is going to rule quickly on this. We would like to get in to provide services under the contract as quickly as possible.”

As part of the protest and the lawsuit, Corizon has focused on improper communication between a key Centurion executive and a top official in the Tennessee Department of Corrections as that state sought proposals for a behavioral health contract.

That Centurion executive, Jeffrey Wells, was listed on the Missouri bid as the primary contact but Corizon alleges that Centurion misled the state and should have reported he was fired as a result of the bid-rigging scandal that cost it the Tennessee contract.

Corizon’s record as the state’s prison health care provider is mixed. It is the largest for-profit prison health care provider in the country, and has been sued numerous times by inmates alleging substandard care in Missouri and other states where it operates.

It has struggled to maintain its contracts in recent years. Corizon lost the Kansas Department of Corrections contract to Centurion in April 2020.

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget and the legislature. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he spent 22 of his 32 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics for the Columbia Daily Tribune, where he won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.