Prisons keep LSU medical pact

The state corrections agency reversed course on a contract that provides medical care for inmates in state prisons.

Legislators had complained when the state Department of Corrections chose a Texas firm to provide “telemedicine services” to replace LSU.

Telemedicine is the practice of connecting physicians with their patients in different locales via the Internet.

Corrections Undersecretary Thomas Bickham said Monday that talks with LSU have resulted in LSU’s School of Medicine retaining the contract to provide services for prisoners in south Louisiana penal facilities. The Texas firm — U.S. Telehealth — will have the telemedicine pact for state prisons in north Louisiana, he said.

Bickham said final negotiations are taking place on three, one-year, renewable contracts. He estimated total costs of contracts with LSU and U.S. Telehealth would run about $1.8 million annually.

LSU bid on the contract as did four private providers seeking the work. U.S. Telehealth was the low bidder.

News of the contract award to the Texas firm prompted outrage from state Sens. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, and Bret Allain, R-Franklin, at a legislative budget committee meeting in late June. They complained that corrections was abandoning the medical school and sending money out of state that could be used to support it.

At the time, Bickham said the Corrections Department had to be “cost-conscious” because it had only been appropriated $50 million for inmate medical care.

Bickham said two factors led to the change in direction.

LSU made points about the continuity of care it could provide because of its history with prison telemedicine, Bickham said.

LSU also agreed to reduce costs and provide more services, he said.

“We made it clear to them there’s no question about the quality of work. It was a question about the amount of work and cost of that work,” Bickham said.

Bickham said the biggest difference between LSU and U.S. Telehealth’s bid was in the number of offenders that could be seen in a four-hour session.

“We had to make a financial decision. Now LSU is going to be helping us with the financial part” by reducing its price, he said.

Based on discussions, he said, “It was in everyone’s best interest that the contract stay with LSU” for work in the southern part of the state.

The majority of state prisons are located in south Louisiana, including Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola; Hunt Correctional Center and the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, both at St. Gabriel; and Dixon Correctional Center at Jackson.

U.S. Telehealth is an Austin-area firm. Based on its proposal, corrections put a $1.66 million annual cost on U.S. Telehealth services while LSU’s came to $2.85 million, which is in the range of two other vendors’ proposals. The fifth firm’s cost hit $5.16 million, according to corrections.

U.S. Telehealth’s contract will be for north Louisiana prison facilities, Bickham said. He said the firm has on its payroll telemedicine physicians with licenses to practice in Louisiana.