NORFOLK - A company that provides medical services at three Hampton Roads area jails is under fire -accused of delivering sub-par service.
Conmed Health Management holds the contract at the jails in Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Newport News and each is worth millions. The City of Chesapeake's contract with Conmed is worth $3.96 million a year, the most expensive of the three cities.
A 13News Now investigation found the company made contributions to each sheriff with which they do business. Va. Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle received a total of $6,750 from Conmed for his 2013 re-election. Chesapeake Sheriff Jim O'Sullivan received $20,000 for his 2013 campaign and Newport News Sheriff Gabe Morgan accepted $2,500.
Each sheriff said those contributions did not influence their decisions to contract with Conmed for health services at their jails.
In fact, Sheriff Stolle says he cancelled the contract after a number of problems.
In Chesapeake, Maj. David Hackworth pointed out that Sheriff Jim O’Sullivan is completely removed from the process to award a contract for healthcare services at the jail. That process is handled by the city’s purchasing office.
The same is true in the Newport News Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Gabe Morgan said he is not involved in the bid process, but members of his staff are.
Once the bids are awarded, critics say, the quality of healthcare Conmed provides to inmates is less than desirable.
“Their primary goal is not to provide medical care, per se, but it is to make profit,” said Alex Friedmann, who is the managing editor of Prison Legal News. “If that's your main motivation then, often, other things will suffer. In this case, it's medical care for prisoners.”
Friedmann said in a worst case scenario, a short sentence for a traffic stop or bad check could turn into a death sentence.
That’s exactly what happened to Douglas Poole, who was serving 10 days in the Virginia Beach jail for driving on a suspended license.
Jack Meyerson, who represented Poole’s family after his death, said Poole had diabetes and high blood pressure and brought medication with him to jail. Despite that, Meyerson said, Poole was not administered his medication. He later died.
"When he complained to the authorities, they thought he was malingering or faking and he ended up dying of a cerebral event that would have been prevented if he had had his blood pressure medication,” Meyerson said.
“In this case, if the vitals had been checked at all, it would've confirmed that the blood pressure was out of control and he was in a danger zone,” he added.
Poole’s family settled a lawsuit with Conmed out of court for $300,000. Death of David Poole lawsuit
13News Now made multiple attempts to reach Conmed for comment but did not hear back.