Lake jail contract becomes a medical drama
October 27, 2016
CROWN POINT — Lake officials opened a bidding process with high stakes for the winner of a lucrative county service contract and perhaps the race for 2nd District county commissioner.
They also raised the curtain on a little political theater.
The Lake County Board of Commissioners are looking for a firm to provide medical services for county jail inmates for the next two to three years that complies with a federal mandate triggered eight years ago by a U.S. Department of Justice finding of substandard health care for inmates.
Dr. William Forgey’s Correctional Health Indiana Inc. has been running the jail clinic since 2012 without having to compete annually with any other providers. He and his 41-member staff are being paid $4.3 million this year.
Commissioners have been under fire this election year for failing to save taxpayer dollars by requiring competitive bidding for county government consultant and service vendors contracts.
Schererville Town Councilman Jerry Tippy, the Republican candidate for the 2nd District commissioner seat, has made that issue a key to his campaign to oust incumbent Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point.
Earlier this month, commissioners announced they would put the jail medical contract up for bid.
Scheub and the other two commissioners declined comment on Wednesday's bid opening. Scheub has previously said he too supports more competitive bidding for public contracts.
Tippy questions the timing because this is less than two week before the Nov. 8 election. "It's certainly suspicious," Tippy said Wednesday.
Earlier this month, commissioners announced that as many as 15 firms could show interest in the jail contract, but only two submitted bids.
Forgey's Correctional Health Indiana Inc. offered to continue their current service for a total of $9 million over the next two years or $13.6 million over the next three years.
Med-Staff Inc. of Hobart offered to take over inmate health care for a total of $7.8 million over the next two years or between $12.4 million and $12.7 million over the next three years.
Med-Staff appears to be the low bidder, but there is no guarantee that firm wins the job.
Med-Staff, run by former Hobart mayor Robert Malizzo, was the county jail's medical provider from 2007 until 2012 under former sheriff Roy Dominguez. Malizzo fell into disfavor when current Sheriff John Buncich took over.
Buncich said the Justice Department found fault with Malizzo's firm. Malizzo said the only problem was a shortage of nurses for all shifts, but commissioners refused to give him enough money to attract more nurses.
Instead, commissioners replaced Malizzo with Forgey although Malizzo was the low bidder in 2012. Malizzo sued the county over that defeat, but later dropped the suit.
Malizzo said he expects Buncich will steer the jail contract to Forgey. He said Forgey and Buncich are longtime friends and Forgey employs the sheriff's "girlfriend" Debra Back as director of nursing in the jail.
Buncich said, "If the best (Malizzo) can do is to go with 'National Enquirer' stuff so be it." The sheriff acknowledged Back is a friend. "That has nothing to do with anything. She has a nursing degree and 35 years nursing experience."
The sheriff said Back and Forgey are county contractors. "They are not employees of mine. Their track record speaks for itself. They have helped clean up the mess Malizzo and his gang left us that cost the county millions of dollars."
Commissioners said they will only award a jail contract after the bids are studied by a panel of specialists who will give their recommendation at a future date.