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Niagara County Legislature chooses new medical firm for care of jail inmates

LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature voted Tuesday to hire a new company to provide medical services to County Jail inmates, two months after the former firm paid $100,000 to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit over the death of an inmate.

Correctional Medical Care of Blue Bell, Pa., will start a three-year contract Nov. 1, replacing Armor Correctional Health Services of Miami, which took over Dec. 15, 2012.

Within two weeks of that takeover, two County Jail inmates died in their cells. An investigative report by the state Commission of Corrections blamed poor medical care for the deaths of Tommie Lee Jones, 51, and Daniel Pantera, 46.

The report singled out Armor’s local medical director, Dr. Steven C. Gasiewicz, for allegedly failing to properly treat the pre-existing conditions of both men. Gasiewicz has denied any wrongdoing. The report also instructed the county to consider sacking Armor, but the company served out its three-year contract.

“There is no firing. They don’t want it anymore,” County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said. “It’s not a response to the report from the state.”

Armor had sought a $2.49 million payment to stay on, which would have been a 17 percent increase, and the county reacted by seeking bids, Undersheriff Michael J. Filicetti said.

In July, Armor agreed to pay $100,000 to Jones’ 23-year-old daughter, Maria Escalera, to settle a suit she brought against Armor and the county. Because of an indemnification clause agreed to by Armor, the county paid nothing to Escalera, who ended up with $68,413 after legal fees were collected by the Lipsitz Green law firm of Buffalo.

A suit by Pantera’s widow against Armor, the county and Gasiewicz, is pending in State Supreme Court.

Jones died Dec. 29, 2012, of heart failure and emphysema. He was in jail for violating parole on a robbery conviction, and the state report said he was denied necessary medications.

Pantera, who was mentally ill, died Dec. 25, 2012. The Commission of Corrections asserted that he died of hypothermia because his cell in the solitary confinement unit was so cold, and Pantera repeatedly stripped naked. The report said Pantera at one point ran full speed into the wall, knocking himself out, and when revived said he had been trying to escape. He was in jail for failing to pay for a cup of coffee at a 7-Eleven convenience store in North Tonawanda.

Correctional Medical provides inmate medical services in 11 other county jails in New York. They will be paid $2.18 million a year, which is $32,000 more than the lowest bid, from Correct Care Solutions of Nashville, Tenn. However, Filicetti said, the county wanted more health staff, and Correctional Medical offered to assign the equivalent of 16.5 full-time positions. Correct Care offered 14.7 jobs, less than Armor’s 15.3. The difference is in mental health staff, Filicetti said.