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September 19, 2005 - Associated Press

Wyoming Looks To Cut Cost Of Prison Health Care

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CHEYENNE - As more inmates with health problems enter the state's prison system, Wyoming corrections officials hope a $10 million-a-year contract with a new private health care provider will save the state on health care costs in the long run.

However, civil rights advocates are wary of the quality of health care provided to inmates by private providers.

The Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins has six inmates who are more than 75 years old. As of Sept. 9, 260 of the state's 2,074 inmates were more than 50 years old.

Because older inmates tend to have more medical problems-high blood pressure; diabetes; liver, lung or heart disease; arthritis; and cancer- they cost the state more health care money.

One inmate at the state prison is 85 years old and on oxygen. Lloyd Cohee, of Casper, who is serving a 36- to 72-month sentence for vehicular homicide is housed in the prison's infirmary.

The state Department of Corrections recently contracted with Prison Health Services of Brentwood, Tenn., to provide all medical, dental and health services and other programs for the state's four prisons in Rawlins, Riverton, Lusk and Newcastle.

Prison Health Services will subcontract some services and assume 100 percent of the risk with no caps on catastrophic claims.

Consolidating all the treatment services with one primary provider "means we will get even more high-quality service for less total money," state corrections director Bob Lampert said.

Established in 1978, PHS has contracts with departments of corrections in Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Virginia as well. They also provide services to inmates at city jails and juvenile facilities.

But PHS, like other private providers, has its critics.

The May 2005 issue of Prison Legal News said PHS has been the target of lawsuits over inmate health care in New York, New Jersey, Nevada and Florida.

Linda Burt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union for Wyoming, said the volume of health care complaints from inmates has remained the same since the state started contract outside for prison health care services over the last 10 years.

"Nothing has ever shown me that private providers in the prison system work well," Burt said. "It doesn't matter whether they are private providers of the entire prison or just health care."

"I think the solution is an in-house solution," she said. "If you're working for profit in that kind of system, you can't provide the appropriate care and be a for-profit system. I think it's almost impossible to do that."'

Anne Cybulski-Sandlian, health services administrator for the state Department of Corrections, said the agency has oversight from Consultants in Correctional Care, a team of experts who visit Wyoming every quarter and audit the prison facilities using a set of health care standards and the health care contract.

"We try to go above and beyond what's required," she said. "We try to provide care they would get in the community."

The department also has a grievance procedure for inmates starting with the prison staff level and moving up to the department director level. Those appeals must be completed before an inmate can file a lawsuit.

But most inmate grievances are settled at the informal level, Cybulski-Sandlian said.

Cybulski-Sandlian said her goal is to release inmates back into the community at optimal health so they can work.

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