York County closer to renewing contract of prison's healthcare provider amid lawsuits

Brandon Addeo
York Dispatch
York County Prison in Springettsbury Township Monday, August, 24, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

York County Prison's health care provider, which has been caught up in high-profile litigation, could soon have its contract extended for another year. 

PrimeCare Medical, a Harrisburg-based company, has a five-year deal to provide medical services at the prison that's set to expire at the end of September.

PrimeCare's current contract started in October 2016, and York County has paid PrimeCare more than $7.4 million annually, according to a copy of the contract.

Under terms of the contract, PrimeCare staff are responsible for inmates' medical treatment, dental care and mental health care. The company operates at prisons in Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia, according to its website. 

The terms of that contract also provided two optional one-year extensions, and the prison's board voted to use the first option to extend the contract through Sept. 30, 2022. The prison board unanimously voted for the extension at the meeting in July. 

York County's commissioners still need to formally approve the extension, which could happen during Wednesday's commissioners' meeting, county administrator Mark Derr said. 

All three county commissioners — Julie Wheeler, Doug Hoke and Ron Smith — sit on the prison board and were a part of the vote to approve the contract extension.

Past incidents: The past five years at the prison were not without controversy, some of which involved PrimeCare.

Recently, the York County Prison said it was following PrimeCare's lead when it decided to not mandate COVID-19 vaccines for prison staff. Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered all state prison employees be vaccinated or take weekly COVID-19 tests. 

More:York County Prison, bucking Gov. Wolf, does not mandate COVID vaccine

PrimeCare leadership clarified that the company did not specifically instruct the prison to take that course of action but rather that the prison was following its existing policy to not mandate vaccinations for employees.

Lawsuits: The company or its employees also have been named as defendants in several lawsuits.

One of those involved the April 9, 2018, death of 41-year-old Everett Palmer Jr. in the prison.

Everett Palmer Jr.

According to a lawsuit filed by Palmer's family in federal court, Palmer had a mental breakdown while in the prison and was not properly evaluated by PrimeCare's mental health staff before being returned to his cell. The lawsuit claimed he was then beaten to death by prison staff in his cell — but a grand jury report disputes that the staff assaulted Palmer, and an autopsy pointed to complications from methamphetamine use as his cause of death.

More:Grand jury report: Palmer had five contacts with police prior to prison

Five PrimeCare employees and the company itself were among numerous defendants listed in the lawsuit, along with corrections officers, the prison board and York County. Court filings from PrimeCare denied the family's allegations and requested a federal judge dismiss the suit. 

The case remains pending in federal court. 

Veronique Henry
(Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Another high-profile lawsuit involved the jail suicide of an accused double murderer. 

Veronique Aundrea Henry, 32, of East Manchester Township, hanged herself with a prison bedsheet on Sept. 15, 2016. That was one day after she and her husband, Paul Jackson Henry III, were arrested and charged with the murders of 31-year-old Foday Cheeks and 26-year-old Danielle Elizabeth Taylor in Cheeks' Fawn Township home. 

Convicted double murderer Paul Jackson Henry III

York attorney Rich Reilly, administrator for Veronique Henry's estate, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against York County and PrimeCare.

The suit claimed that Henry was not put on suicide watch despite previous indications of self harm, and it alleged the PrimeCare employee who conducted a mental health evaluation wasn't qualified to do so. 

More:York County releases settlement amount with estate of accused double murderer who killed self in prison

The estate settled with York County, which agreed to pay out $5,000.

The lawsuit is over, but it's not clear if the estate also reached a settlement with PrimeCare and, if so, how much it was for. 

The York Dispatch filed a Right-to-Know request earlier this year to determine if there was a settlement with PrimeCare contained within sealed court records. In July, the state's Office of Open Records denied that request, claiming that any settlement between PrimeCare and a third party is not a public record. 

Paul Henry III filed his own lawsuit in federal court against York County Prison and PrimeCare earlier this year, claiming his constitutional rights were violated while incarcerated in the prison. 

He was convicted of the double murder in 2018, sentenced to life in prison and is being held at  SCI Benner Township in Centre County. His lawsuit remains pending, and he also has a pending appeal of his criminal conviction. 

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