Wellpath, Fleeing GA Prisons Contract, Fails One Last Bid at Extortion

June 6, 2024

On July 1, three years into its nine-year contract, private health care provider Wellpath will leave behind its 50,000-plus patients incarcerated by the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC). Georgia Today reported on June 5 that a state judge dismissed a lawsuit Wellpath filed against GDC leadership on its way out the door.

In its complaint about its replacement—Centurion, also named in the lawsuit—getting paid more, Wellpath reportedly also saw fit to complain that it had not been prepared for the level of violence inside GDC facilities, which made our trauma care far too expensive. If only there had been some sort of indication that the violence here was a cause for concern. Wellpath did not respond to Filter’s request for comment on the lawsuit.

Wellpath’s arrival in July 2022 was quiet. For many of us, the first sign that something had changed came in August when they refilled monthly prescriptions. Some prescriptions had gotten smaller. Others were missing entirely.

Every day there’d be someone asking a supervisor for help getting their blood-pressure medication. The only pain medication we’re likely to get here is acetaminophen, and even those bottles were being dispensed one-third full.

Blood pressures rose. Blood sugars dropped. Surgical appointments were endlessly deferred.

Copays were tacked onto prescriptions for chronic conditions. People will sacrifice their commissary money so they can stay on medications that make them feel better, but they won’t go hungry for something they just take because they’re supposed to. The effect on elderly or disabled people didn’t take too long to notice.

Those with rheumatoid arthritis used to keep the pain in check with Humira injections every week or two, which cost several thousand dollars a pop. The injections soon failed to arrive at our pharmacy at least one week out of the month. Senior citizens were already tossing and turning in their bunks, in too much misery to sleep, when Humera was swapped out altogether. 

Meanwhile, insulin call put one in mind of a methadone clinic, so merciless were the nurses about failure to reach them within their specified time window. It didn’t matter whether you were late or early, or got there on time only to find no officer present. It was hard not to think about Wellpath saving on each missed injection. 

Blood pressures rose. Blood sugars dropped. Surgical appointments were endlessly deferred. One guy had a stroke after being abruptly cut off from a medication you’re supposed to taper, but just a minor one; he recovered.

The Atlanta Constitution-Journal reported that in Wellpath’s affivadit, the company described difficulty finding qualified medical professionals willing to work in GDC facilities, which makes sense as the job of a nurse here is roughly on par with that of a medic at a battlefield triage site. Even in medium-security facilities, medical staff are called on almost daily to pack holes left by knives and shanks. 

The company reportedly said it performed “skillfully and without any noted deficiencies under incredibly trying conditions that are well known to the GDC.” 

In the final year of Wellpath’s tenure, cost-cutting has taken on new meaning.

As its contract required 364 days’ notice, Wellpath notified GDC of its impending departure back in June 2023. 

In the final year of Wellpath’s tenure, cost-cutting has taken on new meaning. All prescriptions have been downsized. A 600 mg pill is now a 300 mg pill; a 90-day refill comes with 30 pills. Of the name-brand medications that remained, all have now been replaced with something cheaper. 

Medical recommendations have taken a homeopathic turn, that our maladies might be cured by chewing dandelions or cutting down on starch. Fine advice if it wasn’t dispensed in place of long-standing prescriptions, or if starch wasn’t the only food group. 

“What the fuck does it matter if hep C turns my liver to cement?” Al* asked Filter. “I’ll be dead from malnutrition by then anyway.” Al, 60, is disabled and currently housed a quarter-mile walk up a hill from both the dining hall and pill-call window. 

“I can barely make the once a day trip to get the meds,” he said. “They refuse to let me have a supply of here in the dorm.” While he’s up there, he attempts to eat whatever’s being served for lunch, as he’s slowly being priced out of the edible food sold at commissary.

Goodbye Wellpath, and good riddance. We expect your replacement will be no better.

 


 

* Name has been changed to protect source

Photograph via Arkansas Department of Corrections

Jimmy Iakovos

Jimmy Iakovos is a pseudonym for a writer who is incarcerated in Georgia. It is illegal in some Southern states to earn a living while under a sentence of penal servitude. Writing has enabled Jimmy to endure over 30 years of continuous imprisonment.

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