Jail Health Provider Gets New Contracts

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

April 7, 2023

The company that runs the medical system at San Luis Obispo County’s jails is getting a nice bump in pay, increasing its annual contracts to over $9 million.

County Sheriff Ian Parkinson asked Supervisors to approve a new 1-year contract with Wellpath — formerly called California Forensics Medical Group — to provide health care services at the County Honor Farm, Men’s and Women’s jails.

The company was the original contract winner back in 2018, when the County put jailhouse medical service out for bids. 

“The services,” Sheriff Parkinson said, “outlined in the contract include medical, behavioral health, and dental care and are consistent with the national standard of jail health care defined by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care [NCCHC].” 

That initial 3-year contract was for $6.67 million a year with two, 1-year renewal options for a maximum 5-year contract.

The contract called for annual increases for inflation, as well as the automatic renewals, with one caveat.

“The contract allows for increases to be at most 25% of the contract. In the last four years, the Sheriff’s Office has issued four amendments, three related to the CPI and one administrative. Amendment five, due to the CPI, puts the amount over 25%; therefore, the Sheriff’s Office requests Board approval to move forward with the amendment.”

The current contract was up to $7.6 million and the Sheriff added in a 4.8% Consumer Price Index (CPI or inflationary) increase upping the new contract, which runs through Jan. 31, 2024 up to $8.02M an increase of some $367,000.

The Sheriff also got authority to sign any agreement extensions on the contract so long as it doesn’t increase costs to the County General Fund.

In a separate but related contract matter, Sheriff Parkinson also asked Supervisors to increase Wellpath’s contract for another inmate health service that decides whether an accused criminal is mentally competent to stand trial.

The focus on mental health in the County Jail was front and center back then, as the Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff Parkinson himself were under intense criticism after the death of a mentally ill Atascadero man who was strapped naked into a restraint chair, left like that for a couple of days and died a tortuous death that outraged most everyone in SLO County.

That man’s death brought a tough re-election challenge to a Sheriff (and the district attorney too) who had breezed through previous elections, as well as a civil rights investigation by the FBI, which Sheriff Parkinson asked be done.

It also forced the County to focus on a jail system that had fallen behind in inmate health care, especially mental health, as several men had died in custody both from mental health issues as well as medical health problems. Part of the reforms was to build a jail infirmary in the area that used to be the Women’s Jail but became available after a new facility was constructed. The County spent millions creating this health center and improving its health care for those in custody.

Back in 2018, when the County first contracted with Wellpath it included the Jail-Based Competency Treatment Program and the existing program was small with just five beds. The program treated mentally ill jail inmates charged with felonies who were deemed incompetent to stand trial. The program is reimbursed by the Department of State Hospitals (DSH) and costs the County nothing. In 2022, the DSH did a study on the program. 

“The analysis,” Sheriff Parkinson said, “found that the facility’s needs could support an 8-bed program. The current contract with Wellpath allows for five beds and will need to be updated to reflect the eight beds. In addition, DSH has included updates to the contract with the Sheriff’s Office and the cost of increased beds.”

The Sheriff asked Supervisors for $1.09M to cover the contract from February 2023 through Jan. 31, 2024. And these costs continue to be reimbursed by the State DSH.

So Wellpath’s two contracts with the County now total over $9.11 million.

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