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Nassau County Jail: Suicides, Health Care Changes, Budget Cuts Prompt Calls For Oversight


HEALTHY BODY, SICK MIND

Armor Correctional Health Services of New York, a Florida-based company, won an $11.8 million contract to provide health care at Nassau jail starting in June. It joins 12 other jails statewide that have done the same with other such firms. For the first time the jail now has an infirmary equipped for IVs, detox, treating infections and other ailments, saving precious overtime costs by no longer having to send guards with inmates next door to NUMC, Mangano and Sposato say.

It was the Mangano administration’s first privatization of a county service—which garnered far less fanfare than similar moves for Long Island Bus and plans for the sewer system. However, critics charge that Armor could be a case of the cure being worse than the disease. It’s no cure-all—inmates requiring more serious treatment will still be treated at the county’s public hospital.


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This remains a point of contention for some.

“There are still inmates that are assigned to the hospital, and there are open posts now in the hospital,” Jaronczyk, the union head, said at the legislature’s October budget hearing, referring to the closure of the NUMC prison ward. “So now citizens of Nassau County are going to be in a hospital room right next to a possibly violent inmate.”

When Jaronczyk tried to debate Sposato over the issue, Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) cut in: “We’re looking to do more with less because that’s what the outside economy demands of us.”

The hospital insists it’s a moot topic: “We have always had patient prisoners on the floors of the hospital,” says Shelley Lotenberg, spokeswoman for NUMC.

And getting violent at NUMC or other hospitals is not a crime exclusive to Nassau jail inmates. Last Christmas Eve—the night inmate Woody was arrested following a struggle with police—a 27-year-old emergency room patient broke a police officer’s leg.

Fredrickson, of the ACLU, says inmate complaints to her office are up since Armor took over. Sposato has said that is to be expected, since inmates prefer leaving the jail to go to NUMC for every ailment, no matter how small.

All agree there was room for improvement from the stories of the pre-Armor days.

“I never thought about it until I worked there,” Patricia Dellatto of Wantagh, a former Nassau jail nurse who now heads the Nassau Inmate Advocacy Group, told the legislature. “I would go home every day depressed, crying…

It was one story after another.” Besides inmates waiting days for treatment, she said, “I would be chastised if I sent somebody to the ER.”

Armor representatives declined to comment for this story.

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