By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ The head of the Mississippi Department of Corrections says the state could save $2 million over the next three years by choosing a new private contractor to provide health care for inmates.
The health services contract is one of several Department of Corrections financial pacts that are being redone after last year’s federal criminal indictment of former Commissioner Christopher Epps.
The current corrections commissioner, Marshall Fisher, said Friday that the department is recommending that Centurion of Mississippi LLC be awarded a three-year contract worth $149.2 million starting July 1, the beginning of the new state budget year.
Fisher said in a statement that the Centurion pact would replace contracts the department now has with Wexford Health Sources Inc. of Pittsburgh for three state prisons and Health Assurance LLC of Jackson for four private prisons. The current contracts expire June 30.
The new contract must be approved by a review board. Fisher said Department of Corrections employees analyzed proposals from seven medical service providers before choosing Centurion, which is a joint venture between Missouri-based Centene Corp. and Virginia-based MHM Services Inc.
“When we decided to do the request for proposals, we believed by having one vendor to provide health care services we would be able to obtain a better price,” Fisher said. “We feel confident about our decision.”
Centurion will have nurses and other professionals to provide health care at each of the seven prisons, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Grace Fisher, who is not related to the commissioner. As is the current practice, inmates who need inpatient care for more complex health problems will be transferred to one of several hospitals that have contracts with the prison system, she said.
Epps worked for the Department of Corrections 32 years with the final dozen years as commissioner. He was indicted on corruption charges last year, along with Cecil McCrory, a former state legislator who had become a business consultant and had clients with Department of Corrections contracts.
The indictment, which was issued in August and unsealed in November, accused Epps and McCrory of participating in an elaborate bribery scheme that allegedly provided Epps with luxury vehicles, an upscale home in a gated community outside Jackson and a beachside condominium on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Prosecutors said that starting in 2007, Epps steered prison-services contracts toward companies with which McCrory was affiliated as owner or consultant.
The second page of the indictment listed Wexford Health Sources as one of several businesses that had paid consulting fees to McCrory and had received prison contracts. Wexford employees were not accused of wrongdoing.
The day the indictment was made public, Gov. Phil Bryant ordered the Department of Corrections to review all of its contracts, including the ones mentioned in the criminal charges.
Epps and McCrory pleaded guilty in February and remain free while they await sentencing in June. Epps faces up to 23 years in prison $750,000 in fines. He agreed to forfeit $2 million in assets. McCrory faces up to 20 years and $500,000 in fines. He agreed to forfeit $1.7 million in assets.