Maryland officials finalized Wednesday the transfer of medical care responsibility for thousands of incarcerated people, hopeful the new company will provide better care than the “uniquely terrible” prior provider.

With a vote from its top spending board, the state is officially ending its relationship with YesCare, a company mired in a controversial bankruptcy proceeding that’s been the subject of malpractice lawsuits in Maryland and across the country.

Centurion of Maryland was selected to be the new provider for both medical and mental health care for an estimated 20,000 people who are incarcerated in state-run prisons and jails. The company will be paid $1.7 billion to service state prisons and $723 million for care at the Baltimore pre-trial and jail complex. Both contracts are for five years with an option for a two-year extension.

The Board of Public Works — comprised of the governor, treasurer and comptroller — voted last month to approve the prisons contract, and followed up with a vote on the jail complex on Wednesday.

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But the approval came with an earful from the treasurer and comptroller, who expressed concerns that the goal of providing better care for incarcerated people was lost amid bickering over the contract award that tested the patience of state officials.

“We didn’t really hear much about health care for the individuals that are being served. That was not front and center. I didn’t hear anybody talk about the quality of care that you’re providing,” Treasurer Dereck Davis said, after hearing from lawyers for YesCare and Centurion about why their bids were better, and which company would do a better job hiring minority-owned businesses as subcontractors.

Davis said the company lawyers talked more about making money than health care.

“It seems the care for the inmates is secondary. ... You would think that would be the selling point, but it wasn’t,” said Davis, a Democrat.

Providing medical and mental health care in the Baltimore jail complex comes with scrutiny from an independent monitor, part of a long-running, ongoing lawsuit over poor quality care known as the Duvall case.

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Comptroller Brooke Lierman, though not mentioning YesCare and Centurion directly, expressed frustration that the Board of Public Works was drawn into a dispute between the companies that bid for the contract. She previously had described YesCare as a “uniquely terrible and irresponsible” company.

YesCare, which applied for and lost out on both contracts, filed appeals with the state’s Board of Contract Appeals. With the appeal pending, lawyer Philip M. Andrews asked the Board of Public Works not to approve the new contracts.

YesCare and its predecessor company, Corizon Health, had the medical care contract since 2018. The company offered a lower price for the new contracts, but ranked behind Centurion of Maryland on the technical aspects of the contract.

Lierman, a Democrat, admonished state agencies and contractors alike “not to test the Board of Public Works.”

“We should respect and not railroad our administrative and judicial processes,” Lierman said. “The Maryland State Board of Contract Appeals exists to resolve those procurement issues, not the Board of Public Works. However, we will not allow the state to be taken advantage of and for Marylanders to suffer when vendors bring forward frivolous appeals.”

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Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller, who chaired the meeting in place of an absent Gov. Wes Moore, asked Davis if he had anything to add.

He simply responded: “What she said.”

Pamela Wood covers Maryland politics and government. She previously reported for The Baltimore Sun, The Capital and other Maryland newspapers. A graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, she lives in northern Anne Arundel County.

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