Maryland officials plan to spend tens of millions of dollars for another contract extension with a troubled prison health provider.

The state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is proposing to spend nearly $125 million to continue having YesCare provide medical care to the 20,000 people in state-run jails and prisons through the end of the year. It comes after the state extended the contract three months past the end of the prior contract Dec. 31.

YesCare is a spinoff of the bankrupt company Corizon, which was awarded the medical care contract in 2018.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services will ask the state’s top spending board to approve the contract extension Wednesday. The department had the item added to the state Board of Public Works agenda Thursday, with the explanation given as: “Extend the contract to allow time to complete a new procurement.”

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In response to questions from The Baltimore Banner, a spokesperson for the department said that, in addition to allowing more time to evaluate health care providers bidding for the contracts, the extension “also allows for a smooth transition after new contracts have been awarded.”

“The department will continue to move intentionally toward the rehabilitation of its incarcerated population, with a commitment that, whoever the vendors are, top care will be provided to our incarcerated individuals,” spokesperson Latoya Gray said.

The department also will ask the Board of Public Works to approve extending a contract for Centurion Group, a company providing mental health services to people in state facilities, for nearly $25 million. That extension also would be until the end of the calendar year.

Going forward, the state decided to combine medical care and mental health care under the same contract. One contract would be awarded for state prisons and another for the state-run pretrial jail complex in Baltimore City. But the process for awarding the contracts has been slow, dragging past the Dec. 31 expiration of the prior contracts.

YesCare has drawn scrutiny from U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other consumer watchdogs for its ties to a controversial bankruptcy case in Texas.

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In that case, a coalition including civil rights organizations, formerly incarcerated people and government entities such as the Arizona prison system have pushed the judge overseeing settlement talks to reject the proposed resolution and dismiss the bankruptcy, which they describe as a shell game designed to protect YesCare.

That would potentially open new liabilities for YesCare, which was created when Corizon Health relocated to Texas and split into two entities: saddling one, Tehum Care Services, with debts and liabilities, while giving YesCare its contracts. The case is ongoing.

Corizon was facing hundreds of claims by people who are incarcerated for medical malpractice and neglect, and those cases are in limbo because of the bankruptcy.

Sen. Mike McKay, a Republican from Western Maryland, where there are multiple prisons, said he was disappointed to learn that YesCare is likely to be extended. He’s considering attending Wednesday’s meeting to express his concerns.

Chief among McKay’s concern is that YesCare has not paid local health care providers that it subcontracts to transport and treat patients with specialty health care needs.

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“To move forward without having these things addressed doesn’t seem to be the proper manner for the state to do business,” McKay said.

He added: “I do not understand how this company has gotten a pass.”

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