On May 4, 2023, members of the Vermont Just Justice organization held a rally at the statehouse to bring awareness to the accepted practice of denying healthcare to incarcerated individuals. Vermont law 28 VSA 801 (a) clearly states the following: The department shall provide healthcare for inmates in accordance with prevailing medical standards. A quick look up for the VitalCore Kansas-based provider states the following under cost containment: VitalCore controls costs by ensuring that the patient receives the right amount of care the first time. And there is an emphasis on their staff being trained to make medical judgement calls and only sending patients offsite when needed.

Last week Vermont Public hosted a call in to the DOC Commissioner, Defender General, and Commissioner of Health. We spend $23 million annually on prison healthcare, and it is going up to $33 million in June. According to one caller, her son suffered a broken foot while incarcerated. She stated he never had treatment in spite of an x-ray showing a break and multiple sick slips asking for care. He is now out of prison with a painful non-union fracture. The Defender General openly admitted that if an incarcerated person isn’t getting the care they need, litigation is sometimes a recourse. Litigation takes a long time. Short term incarcerations often do not yield treatment because they may be released before the case can be litigated.

Much has been reported in the news of our inmate death toll rising. And there does not seem to be a change in attitude, or blame for these untimely deaths. Now, we are signing a contract with a new/old healthcare provider: Wellpath LLC (formerly Correct Care Solutions), another for-profit company, to the tune of $33 million annually. In addition to wrongful death suits and more than one thousand federal lawsuits against this company, CNN investigated in 2019 and found that Wellpath “provided substandard care due to its focus on containing costs, leading to numerous deaths and other serious outcomes.” Same philosophy, different company.

Our DOC commissioner has stated as a value that “people in custody are first and foremost, people.” With that being said, stop denying people the healthcare our law and tax dollars provide.When an inmate needs a specialist, or an x-ray or an MRI, stop denying that care. Stop the allowance of medical care only when litigated. Litigation takes years and allows a disease process to march on. Also, don’t change the medications our incarcerated folks come in on to something cheaper. Their community provider know their patients the best, not the telehealth provider who cares for hundreds of inmates remotely, with the main objective of denying or diminishing care for corporate profit.

— Leslie Thorsen

Listen to Vermont Edition’s discussion with Commissioner Deml, Commissioner Levine, and Defender General Valerio

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Vermont Just Justice is an all-volunteer organization. Help us continue to support Vermont’s incarcerated people and change our state’s criminal legal system.