Lackawanna County prison board seeks audit of prison's medical provider

Sep. 23—The Lackawanna County Prison Board will seek an audit of the prison's medical provider after learning it failed to supply the contracted number of hours for several medical positions over a monthlong period.

Commissioner Chris Chermak, one of seven members of the board, shared a staffing report from June 26 to July 30 that shows Wellpath provided a total of 2,801.87 staffing hours whereas the contract calls for it to provide 4,260 hours — a difference of 1,458.13 hours.

The company did not meet the required hours for 10 of the 15 positions it staffs, including the medical director, who is required to log 120 hours, but worked none, and registered nurses, who were required to work 840 hours, but logged 282.68 hours.

There were several positions where the worked hours exceeded the contract, including the nursing director and a psychiatrist. They were not enough to offset the lost hours.

"This is blatant abuse of the contract," Chermak said at Wednesday's prison board meeting. "I seriously think it needs a good, hard look."

Wellpath has served as the medical provider since January 2021. Chermak said he suspects the company also failed to meet the contracted hours in other months. He is awaiting receipt of other reports to confirm that.

Teresa Koeberlein, a spokesperson for Wellpath, declined to comment.

Chermak said he believes the staffing problems relate to difficulties the company is having filling positions.

"I understand they can't get employees ... but we're paying for it," he said. "If we're paying for it and they can't provide it, then we should be getting a refund."

The board, which also includes Commissioners Debi Domenick and Jerry Notarianni, District Attorney Mark Powell, Sheriff Mark McAndrew and Controller Gary DiBileo, voted unanimously to begin the process of seeking an independent audit. Judge James Gibbons, the board's chairman, was absent.

In an interview Thursday, Chermak and solicitor David Solfanelli said specifics of who will perform the audit are still being worked out.

"I have to give it some thought and have discussions on how it's going to be done and who is going to do it," Solfanelli said.

In other business Wednesday, the board heard from several members of NEPA Stands Up, a group attempting to get a referendum on the November general election ballot that would limit the use of solitary confinement at the prison.

Holly VanWert, a member of the group's parent organization, PA Stands Up, filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging the county board of elections' rejection of its petition signed by 13,665 people, which exceeded the number required.

The prison board is not a defendant in the lawsuit and has no say in whether the referendum is placed on the ballot. VanWert asked the board to voluntarily agree to implement the referendum as policy.

McAndrew, who chaired the meeting, said the board would take the request under advisement.

The board also voted 5-0, with Domenick abstaining, to follow Warden Tim Betti's recommendation to fire two employees and hire six full-time and four part-time correctional officers.

Regarding the firings, Betti said one employee underreported the conditions of a police interaction, while the other employee failed to obtain firearms qualification. Betti did not identify either person. The Times Tribune filed a Right to Know request Thursday seeking their termination letters.

Domenick abstained from voting on the firings because she said she believes only commissioners have the authority to terminate employees. She abstained from the hirings because board members were not provided a form with an application attached.

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