York County advances contract with prison medical contractor

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

After nearly a year without a new contract, York County officials say they're nearing a final agreement with PrimeCare to provide medical services to York County Prison inmates.

On Wednesday, the York County Prison Board of Inspectors conditionally approved a three-year contract with the Harrisburg-based company, which has been subject of several lawsuits related to its work in York County.

The contract, worth a total of $24 million, still needs to be reviewed by the prison's solicitor, Don Reihart, before it will be considered by the Board of Commissioners for final approval.

"They've been great for us," Warden Adam Ogle said. "Anything we've ever asked, they were able to accommodate. I think this makes the most sense monetarily." 

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When asked why the new contract was for three years instead of five years, Ogle said it was in the best interest of both parties.

The contract was changed after Reihart noticed the removal of two paragraphs, one of which has to do with the status of PrimeCare as an independent contractor. 

Ogle, who described them as "simple changes," said he expects PrimeCare would be amenable to adding them back in.

When reached for comment, PrimeCare Medical CEO Thomas Weber said the company believes it's reached a fair agreement and looks forward to continuing its relationship with the county.

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

According to Weber, the language involving PrimeCare as an independent contractor is contained under a different paragraph. That status means that PrimeCare employees are not employees of the county and thereby not entitled to county benefits.

"We take care of our own employees, it's a way of making sure that someone cannot make a cross-claim that they're entitled to some county benefit when they're truly not a county employee," he said.

The contract also contains language that mutually indemnifies the county and PrimeCare. Weber said that means the county would be protected from liability if there were an allegation of improper medical care.

If there were an allegation of improper use of force by prison staff, Weber said, PrimeCare would likewise be protected from liability for that. If there were claims for both security and medical, Weber said each entity would have to defend their respective obligations.

The contract renewal comes amid several recent lawsuits involving York County Prison inmate deaths filed against PrimeCare and the county.

One case, involving the Sept. 15, 2016, suicide of murder suspect Veronique Henry, 32, ended in a settlement last year. York County paid Henry's estate $5,000, but it's not known if PrimeCare paid any money as a part of the settlement; The York Dispatch filed a Right to Know request for that information but was denied by the state's Office of Open Records.

Another lawsuit, surrounding the 2018 death of Everett Palmer Jr., 41, included allegations by the family that Palmer was not properly treated by PrimeCare's mental health staff, claims disputed by the company.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Harrisburg found insufficient evidence to charge York County Prison employees in Palmer's death.

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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. 

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

He was convicted of the 2016 double murder of Foday Cheeks and Danielle Taylor 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. 

— Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.