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Inmate death haunts Hillsborough jail contract process

The private health services agency that treats Hillsborough County jail inmates is hoping to get an extension on its contract in spite of a scandal in 2012 in which an inmate suffered a stroke, was misdiagnosed and died, authorities said.

The inmate, Allen D. Hicks, spent more than three days in jail after his arrest in a minor traffic crash. He complained of back pain from a previous wreck and was unable to move without the help of detention deputies. He had suffered a stroke and died later at Tampa General Hospital.

Armor Correctional Health Services, which has been running the infirmary for the inmates since 2010, took the brunt of criticism in an internal review, including a suggestion that the administrator of the agency “offered misleading information” about the existence of the medical notes of an examining nurse. The review also said the administrator and a subordinate “engaged in conduct that appeared to be intended to intimidate and coerce (the nurse) about her assertions with regard to the assessment and medical notes.”

Armor, one of the largest corrections health care agencies in the country, is among seven health care agencies that have submitted bids to take care of sick and injured inmates.

This month, Hillsborough County sheriff’s officials are reviewing bids for health care service at the two county jails, one on Orient Road the other on Falkenburg Road, that can hold more than 4,000 inmates. Armor, which is based in Miami, operates infirmaries in 17 Florida counties, including Hillsborough and Pinellas.

Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee is expected to award the job to one of the bidders this month. Armor’s contract with the sheriff’s office began in 2010 and included two one-year extensions.

The compensation depended on the average jail population. According to the existing contract, Armor received more than $16 per inmate per day.

The bids are for a three-year contract, which can be renewed for two additional one-year extensions, according to the sheriff’s request for proposals. Seven private companies have submitted bids for the Hillsborough jail job, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Debbie Carter. They are Armor Correctional Health Services, Corizon Health, Correct Care Solutions, Correctional Health Care, Correctional Medical Care, NaphCare Inc. and Wexford Health Sources.

Carter said she couldn’t discuss what’s in the bids or what goes into the decision to select one over another or whether the Hicks case will enter into the calculations.

Armor could face an uphill battle because of the Hicks case.

Hicks was arrested after a minor traffic crash on Interstate 275 in May 2012. He could not get out of his car, and a trooper and sheriff’s deputy thought he was being combative. He was dragged out of the car and taken to jail, where he complained of a back injury, saying he couldn’t move.

For nearly three days he was prone on a mattress on the floor of a cell, complaining of back pain. He saw an Armor nurse a couple times, but it wasn’t until the third day, when he was found lying on the concrete floor of the cell unable to move at all, that he was sent to Tampa General Hospital, where he died. He was 51.

An 11-page review conducted by Col. James Previtera, the commander of the jail at the time, said security clearances for the administrator and his assistant were revoked after the incident.

“I took this action not just because of the improper handling of critical medical records,” Previtera wrote in his conclusions, “but also due to the conflicting statements about the existence of the records and the manner in which the reporting nurse was treated by these two men.”

Court records show that since the incident, civil settlements have been reached between Hicks’ family and the sheriff’s office, Armor, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue and the Florida Highway Patrol. The overall settlement was for about $1 million, with Armor responsible for $800,000 of that sum.

An Armor spokesman said the company declined comment out of respect for the bidding process.

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