Barnstable jail stops using private health care vendor, citing staffing issues

A Massachusetts sheriff will no longer use a private health care vendor for medical and mental health care services in a state jail.

Barnstable County Sheriff Donna Buckley said she will not renew a contract with the provider Wellpath when the current contract ends in October. Instead, the Barnstable County Correctional Facility will operate with an in-house health care team.

Buckley said Wellpath has not been able to retain enough workers during its three-year contract to provide adequate services in Barnstable. Right now, Buckley said, they have only about 20% of the necessary staff.

"We can not be caught in a situation where no one shows up for work and not be able to do anything about it," Buckley said. "We can not be caught in a situation where we knowingly are unable to provide medical and mental health services and putting people who are sent to us in a worse position upon release."

Buckley said the move will allow the jail to hire and pay clinicians, offering options such as flexible scheduling,  incorporating telehealth services and providing state benefits — which are not offered through a private vendor.

"The model doesn't work in Barnstable county," Buckley said. "With our housing issues and our remote location, being primarily a tourist community — those challenges are unique or more difficult for us."

The Barnstable jail hired its own medical and mental health care workers until it began using private vendors in 2015 and Buckley said her office will follow that model.

The Barnstable contract with Wellpath is worth almost $2 million a year. Wellpath is also contracted to provide services for all state prisons and two other jails in Massachusetts.


Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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