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Spokane County Jail medical provider to increase staffing after $27 million verdict

The private contractor that provides medical services in the Spokane County Jail is hiring more nurses mere months after it lost a $27 million wrongful death case.   (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
The private contractor that provides medical services in the Spokane County Jail is hiring more nurses mere months after it lost a $27 million wrongful death case.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

NaphCare, the private contractor that provides medical services in the Spokane County Jail, is hiring more nurses and staff just months after a federal jury found it at fault in a $27 million wrongful death case.

Spokane County commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved an amendment to NaphCare’s contract that allows the company to hire more employees for an additional $354,000 a year. The amendment increases NaphCare’s annual contract to $7.8 million and allows the company to increase staffing for registered nurses, psychiatric nurses, dentists, dental assistants and a medical director.

NaphCare provided a written statement in response to an interview request.

“With this amendment, NaphCare, now operating through a new subsidiary company Everhealth, will be able to provide more clinical staff within the Spokane County Jail leading to improved patient care to support a healthy return to the community,” the company wrote.

NaphCare operates in dozens of jails and prisons throughout the country. The contractor has provided medical services to Spokane County Jail inmates since 2017.

Spokane County officials at the time said outsourcing medical services was a necessity due to staffing shortages.

“Believe it or not, there aren’t a lot of people out there in the medical industry that say, ‘I want to work for a jail,’ ” Spokane County Commissioner Al French said in a Jan. 9 meeting. “We’re at, like, the bottom of the ladder, if not beneath the ladder.”

County leaders say contracting with NaphCare eased staffing concerns, but the transition hasn’t gone smoothly.

Over the past six years, numerous inmates have criticized NaphCare for failing to treat injuries and illnesses. This summer, a federal jury in Spokane awarded $27 million in damages to the family of Cindy Lou Hill, an inmate who died of a ruptured intestine under NaphCare’s watch. NaphCare will have to pay $26.5 million of that amount while Spokane County will owe $275,000. NaphCare is appealing the verdict, although jury decisions are rarely overturned.

“I think we dodged a bullet substantially in that case,” Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Dayle Andersen said in a Jan. 9 county commission meeting. “The jury could have gone either way.”

Mike Sparber, Spokane County’s senior director of law and justice, told the commissioners he believes the jury verdict is the reason NaphCare wants to hire more staff for the jail.

“I think that’s kind of the impetus for us having to up our cost,” he said.

Sparber said he believes it’s a positive that NaphCare wants to hire more staff. Even if it wasn’t, he said the county had little choice but to approve the contract amendment.

“Long story short, they’ve kind of got us over a barrel,” Sparber told the commissioners.

Sparber explained that either the county or NaphCare can opt out of the contract at any time after giving 90 days notice. If the county rejected NaphCare’s request to hire more staff for $354,000 a year, it may have had a mere three months to find a new medical provider.

Finding a new contractor that quickly would have been virtually impossible, Sparber said. Realistically, he said, the process would take about a year.

Spokane County Commissioner Chris Jordan, who took office on Jan. 1, said approving the amendment was in the best interest of inmates and taxpayers.

“I have questions about the model of using a private company for these services, but that was a decision made before my time,” Jordan said. “Right now, I’m two weeks into my new role; I’m in the mode of listening and learning.”

Commissioner Amber Waldref, Jordan’s fellow newcomer to the county commission, said she intends to carefully review NaphCare’s contract – which ends in June 2024 – before the county renews it and will look “at other options if needed.”

Sparber, who oversaw operations of the Spokane County Jail before he became the senior director of law and justice, said he believes NaphCare has done a good job.

“If these changes will enhance what they’re doing right now,” he said, “I think that works better for all of us.”

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