by Jordan Green

Public health director defends contract to Prison health services

Merle Green, director of the Guilford County Department of Public Health, defended the county’s decision to contract with Prison Health services for a new public health clinic in southeast Greensboro in a May 27 e-mail to Melva Florance, who heads a nonprofit dedicated to serving low-income residents of Greensboro.

A 2005 investigation of Prison Health services by The New York Times found “repeated instances of medical care that has been flawed and sometimes lethal,” and civil lawsuits in which the company is a defendant number in the thousands.

Florance said recently that she believes the county did not exercise due diligence in awarding the contract to Prison Health services, and that “the decision to provide medical care to some of the sickest residents of Guilford County came down to money.”

Green defended the county’s choice of Prison Health services. “The community should actually be grateful to Guilford County for working so diligently to bring more medical services to se Greensboro,” she wrote in a May 27 e-mail CC-ed to members of the Guilford County Commission. “The creation and maintenance of a medical facility is a major undertaking, and many entities obviously have not wanted to take the risk.”

Green added, “Individuals who are incarcerated experience the same physiological effects from chronic conditions (such as hypertension) as the general population. The physicians who provide healthcare to those who are behind prison bars treat them using the same protocols as they use in the un-incarcerated population.”

Skip Alston, chairman of the Guilford County Commission, endorsed Green’s assessment of the company’s ability to provide healthcare services to low-income residents of southeast Greensboro, writing in an e-mail: “Merle, thanks for responding to this issue from an educated and informed standpoint. Please keep me posted on any other issues concerning this matter.”

Florance responded with indignation: “I am hearing the historical claim of ‘separate but equal’ being made in this case… I understand ‘… many entities do not want to take that risk…’ of providing medical care to people who are unable to pay for it. That doesn’t mean the human beings in these areas don’t deserve better. The fact of the matter is simple: The life of an individual living in poverty means far less than what is considered a productive participating member of society.”