Prison commissioner defends inmate healthcare provider at Council hearing

Prison Commissioner Louis Giorla, pictured here at Curran Fromhold Correctional Facility. (Ed Hille / Staff Photographer)

Philadelphia Prison Commissioner Louis Giorla on Wednesday defended the city’s controversial inmate healthcare provider, Corizon Healthcare, in his first public comments on the company since the city agreed to renew its contract for $42 million per year despite a lower bid from another company.

“During the company’s tenure, health services at the Philadelphia prisons have undergone significant changes and improvements,” Giorla said at a hearing organized by Councilman Jim Kenney. “When we compared the providers, we felt that Corizon was more capable of rendering the services,” he said after.

Giorla declined to answer many questions posed by Council members, citing the potential for a lawsuit from a Corizon competitor that made a lower bid. The contract, which the city can choose to extend for up to four years, will be signed March 1, he said.

Corizon, the largest prison healthcare provider in the country, agreed to pay the city a record $1.85 million last summer after an investigation by Inspector General Amy Kurland revealed the company had violated the city’s requirements for contracting with companies owned by women, minorities or disabled persons and fudged documents to cover it up.

The other bidder, Correctional Medical Care, is owned by a Spanish-Guatemalan woman and made a bid that would’ve cost the city $3.5 million less per year. Giorla declined to answer questions on what caused the administration to deem its level of care to be substandard.

Dr. Daniel Schidlow, dean of the Drexel University College of Medicine, also spoke at the hearing to defend Drexel’s Hahnemann University Hospital, which had signed onto CMC’s bid and promised to provide care.

The hearing also included testimony from CMC executives and a former Philly prison inmate and cancer patient who criticized Corizon for inadequate care.

Previously, the administration told lawyers for CMC that they would not provide a witness for Kenney’s hearing. Asked what had changed that led to his appearance Wednesday, Giorla said, “We feel justified in our decision.”

Kenney also criticized the administration’s use of a renewable one-year contract rather than a long-term deal, a practice that dates back to Mayor Ed Rendell’s tenure. The city Home Rule Charter requires all contracts longer than one year to be reviewed by Council.

Kenney says the one-year deals let administrations avoid necessary oversight. Mark McDonald, the mayor’s spokesman, has said it improves contract management because vendors have to prove their worth every year.