Virginia Sheriff Seeking Re-election Took Campaign Donations From Healthcare Provider For Jail He Oversees
Sheriff Mike Chapman, who runs the Loudoun County jail, has received close to $15,000 in contributions from the provider since taking office in 2012.
Aaron Morrison Oct 17, 2019
Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman, who is seeking a third term in office, has accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from a private healthcare provider for the Virginia jail he oversees.
In September, months after county supervisors renewed a $4.7 million contract with Wellpath LLC, the company made a $5,000 contribution to the Republican candidate’s re-election campaign.
In a statement emailed to the The Appeal, Chapman said: “I have never solicited a contribution based on past or prospective involvement with the [Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office], and would never allow a condition to be placed on support for my service as sheriff or my campaign.”
Under Virginia law, it is not illegal—and not unusual—for companies who do business with counties to donate to local politicians. But Chapman’s Democratic opponent in November’s election, Justin Hannah, has called the donations “ethically questionable.” And criminal justice reform advocates go further: When sheriffs can outsource healthcare at the jails they run, it becomes more difficult for the public to trust that sheriffs are accountable for the well-being and safety of detainees and staff, said Corene Kendrick, a staff attorney at the California-based Prison Law Center.
“It does create this perverse incentive to scrimp on the care,” said Kendrick, “because for every lab test not run or a specialist visit not done, that’s just additional profit that the company can pocket.”
Wellpath LLC was formed in October 2018, after Correct Care Solutions merged with another prison health care provider. Correct Care made its first contribution—$3,880, according to the Washington Post—to Chapman’s re-election campaign in 2014. He was first elected sheriff in 2012.
The donations continued in 2016. Chapman’s campaign received $500 from Correct Care in June of that year and $2,500 in September.
On June 26, 2017, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted to renew its contract with Correct Care for two years, at a cost of $4.7 million. The board told the Post then that Chapman was not involved in the decision and said it adhered to state rules regulating the vendor selection process.
About three months later, Correct Care donated $370 to Chapman’s campaign. And in September 2018, Correct Care gave $5,000 to Chapman’s campaign. To date, the sheriff has received at least $14,750 in contributions from the healthcare provider.
Wellpath, told The Appeal it won its most recent contract with Loudoun County “through a competitive bidding process.” The Nashville, Tennessee-based company has 245 local contracts across the U.S.
“We provide our patients quality, compassionate care every day,” Judy Lilley, a Wellpath spokesperson, told The Appeal via email. “Sheriff Chapman does a tremendous job of caring for and protecting his local community.”
Cheryl Middleton, a purchasing agent in the Loudoun County Division of Procurement, confirmed that Chapman did not participate in the 2017 process of selecting a healthcare vendor for the jail. However, the committee that evaluated vendor proposals included three people who work in the sheriff’s office, she said. She added that all such processes include “stakeholders” from the department or office concerned.
“I am confident that the contract with Correct Care Solutions was the result of a fully fair and impartial [request for proposal] process as required by the Virginia Public Procurement Act and not a ‘pay for play’ arrangement as suggested,” Middleton wrote in an email.
“When the sheriff is accepting political donations in the thousands of dollars from the company that provides medical services to the jail, it raises questions as to whether he is putting his candidacy before the safety of the community and the welfare of those in the jail,” said Hannah.
Hannah, who is an Army Reserve intelligence officer and works as a Department of Defense contractor, raised just under $650 last month, according to campaign finance disclosure reports. Chapman raised $16,390 over the same time period.
Loudoun County first hired Conmed Healthcare Management—which Correct Care Solutions later acquired—in 2005 to administer medical and psychiatric services to those detained in its jail, the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center. The jail, built to detain 460 people, is in the county seat in Leesburg, 40 miles northwest of Washington, D.C.
But the terms of a private correctional contract can constrain the type and amount of services offered to detainees, which can lead to inadequate healthcare coverage, said Kendrick, who has sued county jails and prisons over medical, mental health, dental care services. According to Kendrick, correctional healthcare companies will typically negotiate with states and counties over a daily rate per prisoner for basic healthcare and specialty care, such as surgeries and cancer treatments performed outside the facility. But that rate can fluctuate based on the facility’s average daily population.
“I don’t mean to say that government run or self-operated prison healthcare is wonderful,” Kendrick added. “But at least when the government agencies are providing the service, you don’t have the profit motive to cut corners, and there’s more oversight.”
Loudoun County has not been sued in federal court over healthcare services in the jail within the last two years. However, in the same time period, Correct Care Solutions and Wellpath have been named as defendants in more than 500 federal lawsuits nationwide, including in Virginia. Complainants have alleged substandard mental health services, inadequate treatment of injuries sustained while in custody, and negligent care that preceded death.
The most recent Virginia cases, filed in 2018 and 2019, alleged that Correct Care employees were negligent in their care of detainees at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth. The jail has been plagued with scandal over the number of in-custody deaths and allegations of mistreatment by its medical services provider.
Still, at least six Virginia sheriff candidates have accepted roughly $41,000 in contributions from Correct Care Solutions and Wellpath over the last dozen years, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Former Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson, Chapman’s predecessor, accepted thousands of dollars in donations from the county jail’s healthcare provider.
“This is so widespread and so common, it’s the status quo. It shouldn’t be, but it is,” said Max Rose, executive director of Sheriffs for Trusting Communities, a nonprofit that is backing Hannah. “Until sheriff’s campaigns are run free of that money, you have no reason to believe that the sheriffs are doing anything but bowing to the wishes of the donors.”
If he were elected, Hannah said he would seek a different healthcare vendor—even if it was more expensive for residents—in order to rid the office of any appearance of conflicts of interest.
“I’d rather pay the taxes than say that we did someone wrong or we made our community worse,” Hannah told The Appeal. “You’re saving in the long run.”
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