Onondaga County jail. Credit: Chris Libonati | libonati@centralcurrent.org

After at least three deaths in 15 months, the Onondaga County jail appears set to get a new health care provider.

Wellpath Care will take over for NaphCare, according to a letter from Onondaga County Legislature Chair Jim Rowley to the New York State Commission of Correction.

NaphCare’s contract was set to run out at the end of 2022, and the county had put the contract out to bid.

Rowley sent the letter, which was included in the Legislature’s meeting agenda this week, to the state commission after it had urged the Legislature to investigate NaphCare’s ability to provide healthcare at the jail.

The commission was critical of how the health care provider handled the death of Angela Peng. She died while incarcerated at the jail in September 2021.

Peng died by suicide, but the report by the commission found Peng had received substandard care as she suffered with symptoms of drug withdrawal. Her family has sued the county and NaphCare.

“The Medical Review Board remains affirmed in its opinion that there were serious deficiencies in the standard of care provided to Angela Peng that require corrective action and will be subject to further review by the Commission,” the report says.

According to Rowley’s letter, Chief Custody Deputy Esteban Gonzalez and Contract Compliance Administrator Karen Buck agreed with the commission’s report on NaphCare.

Wellpath, which has also gone by Correct Care Solutions, has previously held a contract for jail health care in Onondaga County. The company provided care at the time of the death of Chanel Lakatosz, who died while going through drug withdrawal in 2014.

The Legislature’s chairman cited Wellpath’s “prior track record” at other facilities and its experience in Onondaga County in his letter to the commission.

Wellpath was the subject of a 2019 report by CNN, which found the health care provider often hires “inexperienced workers, offered minimal training and understaffed facilities.”

The CNN report found substandard care led to deaths and other serious outcomes at 120 locations in 32 states. At the time, Wellpath had contracts at 500 facilities in 34 states.

During Naphcare’s three-year stint at the jail, there have been at least three deaths reported.

About three months after Peng died, Paul Watkins, 38, also died by suicide at the jail, according to the sheriff’s office.

This summer, an infant was born in a jail cell and later died. Incarcerated women who spoke to Central Current afterward said the infant’s mother had been in distress for at least two days before giving birth.

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Chris Libonati covers government, accountability and equity. Have a tip? Contact Chris at 585-290-0718 or libonati@centralcurrent.org.