After a lengthy bidding process and long-delayed decision, Maryland is ready to part ways with its problematic prison and jail health care provider, YesCare.

Two massive mental and medical care contracts totaling billions of dollars for state prisons and the state-run Baltimore jails have been in the works. The contract for state prisons was approved Wednesday by the Maryland Board of Public Works, while a vote on the jail complex contract was postponed until early June.

Centurion of Maryland was selected for both contracts: $1.7 billion for the state prisons and $723 million for the pretrial complex. Both contracts are for five years with an option for a two-year extension.

Composed of the governor, treasurer and comptroller, the board must approve all major state contracts.

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Joseph W. Sedtal, deputy secretary of the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said Centurion will provide better quality care for the thousands of people incarcerated in state facilities.

“I would define this effort as nothing less than a reimagining of how medical and mental health care can be and should be provided to the incarcerated population in our charge,” Sedtal said, “and a moral declaration supporting the importance this department places on ensuring those who enter our facilities are afforded every opportunity to walk out better and healthier individuals.”

Both contracts are being contested, but Sedtal said his department is confident that the protests will ultimately be rejected. He said he has the “utmost faith” in the procurement process that resulted in Centurion winning the contracts over other bidders, including the current vendor, YesCare.

“The vendor’s financials indicate a company in distress and the department is not confident they are capable of performing adequately on a contract of this scope and magnitude,” department officials wrote in discussing why they turned down YesCare and chose Centurion for the prison health care contract.

Though YesCare claims it is “not affiliated in any way” with the bankrupt spinoff of its parent company, the now-defunct Corizon, YesCare has been a frequent target in a controversial bankruptcy case in Texas, and its pursuit of state government contracts has drawn the scrutiny of the judge overseeing settlement talks.

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Corizon, and then its successor, YesCare, have held the medical care contract in both prisons and jails since 2018. State officials extended YesCare’s contract twice in the past year during the drawn-out process to seek new bidders.

An attorney for YesCare urged the Board of Public Works on Wednesday to postpone voting on the contracts until the protest process can play out before a different state panel that considers contract appeals.

YesCare submitted bids on both contracts that were lower-priced than Centurion, said John F. Dougherty, an attorney with the Kramon & Graham firm. On the contract for the state prisons, for example, he said YesCare’s price was $200 million less than Centurion’s $1.7 million proposal.

“That’s a lot of extra money to decide to spend,” Dougherty said.

Treasurer Dereck Davis, one of the three members of the Board of Public Works, questioned whether the low bid was too good to be true.

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“It’s probably a lowball bid to win the contract,” the Democrat said.

Another losing bidder, Wexford Health Sources, also asked for a delay or at least a second look. Wexford bid only on the state prisons contract.

Bruce Bereano, an Annapolis lobbyist representing Wexford, criticized the state for not doing interviews with the bidders and questioned whether Centurion had factored in all the requirements of the contract when coming up with its final bid.

“It’s just not the way government should operate,” Bereano said.

Centurion “provided the proposal with the superior technical ranking and best financial value to the state,” officials noted on the Board of Public Works agenda.

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Further, Centurion’s corporate headquarters is in Northern Virginia and the company has a local office in Lutherville, which officials said would mean that much of the contract’s value “will be reinvested back into the Maryland economy.”

Centurion also plans to form partnerships with local universities “to draw new talent into correctional healthcare.”

Dr. Uchenna Achebe, Centurion’s chief psychiatrist, told the board that the company will ensure “access to timely and appropriate care” for people who are incarcerated.

“Our Centurion team understands that this is both a critical mission and an urgent imperative for the department as well as the administration,” Achebe said. “Therefore, we are laser-focused on this mission.”

With Wednesday’s vote on the state prisons contract, Centurion will begin transitioning to a takeover of medical care from YesCare starting in June. Centurion already has been providing mental health care in state prisons.

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The contract for medical and mental health care in the Baltimore pretrial complex is now scheduled for a vote on June 5, after Davis, the state treasurer, asked for more time for review.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the name of Wexford Health Sources.

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