WHITESTOWN — The Oneida County jail has started working with a new healthcare provider for all medical, dental and mental health treatment for incarcerated inmates, according to Sheriff Robert M. Maciol.
Wellpath, a Tennessee-based company, took over medical services on Jan. 1. The existing medical staff at the Judd Road correctional facility is expected to stay on, Maciol said.
“One of the most important components of running a correctional facility is providing the necessary care,” Maciol said, adding that he learned early into his tenure that medical services were “outside the scope of the sheriff,” who is focused on law enforcement.
“Medical care inside a facility is certainly not something within our area of expertise,” he said, so they “need to bring experts in” in order to “utilize our resources a little better.”
For most of the jail’s century and much of operation, Oneida County provided its own medical personnel in the jail’s own infirmary. The sheriff said this was privatized eight years ago when they partnered with a private enterprise, and that contract and those services went out for a new bid last year.
Wellpath won the bid for a 3-year contract at $4,058,994 annually, officials said. Wellpath beat out four other bidding companies.
“Our goal here is to build on the history of care that you have already established,” said Cindy Watson, Wellpath’s local government operations president of the east.
“Incarcerated populations have changed pretty significantly” over the past 10 to 15 years, Watson noted, pointing to the opioid epidemic, the COVID-19 pandemic and a “tremendous” increase in mental health cases inside county jails.
Officials said all of the current healthcare staff in the jail have decided to stay on and will be absorbed by Wellpath. The new company will bring in a few new employees, as well as a new physician. Most treatment policies and procedures are dictated by the state Department of Corrections and Department of Health, Watson noted, and Wellpath will work within those to improve operations where they can.
Among the planned changes, Watson said they will be joining the New York State Health Information Exchange, to get better access to an incoming inmate’s existing medical records. Wellpath will also bring telemedicine into the jail, allowing inmates to meet with doctors virtually instead of needing physical transportation.
Over the next two to three months, Watson said Wellpath also hopes to update the jail’s paper medical files to digital.
Watson said her company’s job will be to make sure inmates “will be released from custody in a better healthcare state than when they came in.”
Wellpath is operating in county jails in Onondaga, Rockland, Rensselaer, Westchester and Orange counties, as well as in 36 states and Australia, officials said. They are in 550 facilities and treat more than 300,000 people a day.