By: Tom Duggan – August 25, 2016
Last week The Valley Patriot hosted a substantive debate (SEE VIDEO) with the Democratic Party Candidates for Essex County Sheriff, leaving no doubt about the difference between the six candidates. The debate was held at North Andover High School and was sponsored by Colizzi Memorials in Methuen, Minasian and Aziz Law Offices in Lawrence, Myles and Patricia Burke of Berkshire Hathaway Real Estate and Vietnam Veteran Richard Russell.
Seeking to replace the outgoing Sheriff Frank Cousins are: Defense Attorney Ed O’Reilly, retired Corrections Officer Jerry Robito, Lynn Police Chief Kevin Coppinger, Retired DEA Agent Paul Russell and retired Sheriff’s Dept. employee William Castro, and Michael Marks, superintendent of the Middleton prison.
During the debate each of the six candidates committed to support the Democratic Party’s nominee who will be chosen on THURSDAY, September 8th.
While each candidate gave similar answers to many of the questions asked during the debate there were several areas where they disagreed, including private health care services in the prison.
MARKS SUPPORTS PRIVATIZATION OF HEALTH CARE
Moderator Christine Morabito asked the candidates about the myriad of problems with the private contractor that provides nursing staff and medical care. Each of the candidates with the exception of Michael Marks said they did not believe in privatizing health services and would return hiring and firing of medical and nursing staff to the sheriff’s department.
“When I was in charge of housing I was in the infirmary,” said Jerry Robito.
“I was there when we hired nurses, we screened them, made sure we had the best person for the job.” Robito said that when the nursing and medical care was privatized it caused “all kinds of problems” including nurses having affairs with inmates. “We inherit, we don’t hire,” he said detailing phone calls he gets from on the issue. “We need to go back to the old way of doing things.”
But, Michael Marks of Lynn disagree.
“Unfortunately, in corrections, everything is money driven. At some point in time, nationally, privatization of food and medial services became norm. It’s like snow and ice, you can budget a million dollars for health care, and then you get an inmate who is in the hospital for 3 years like we have right now. We have an inmate who has been in and out of the hospital for three years. That’s millions of dollars in health care for this individual. He was shot in Boston by a Middlesex County Deputy sheriff deputy after he shot one their deputies.”
“The reason for privatization is to make sure the liability for health care falls on the contractor. But, we also have a contract they have to follow. I believe the problem with nursing staff is they are not use to correctional health care. It’s a very, very, difficult place to practice health care. This isn’t a hospital, these people aren’t always nice. There’s so much turnover and the pay is not close to what hey pay in community. In the private sector, if you are a good nurse you can write your own ticket and make what you want to make. Unfortunately in this industry that’s not the case.”
“I think, overall, we have very good correctional good health care. NAPHCARE is accredited by the National Correctional Association and the National Commission of Health Care. Both come in every three years, they do anaudit of the medical process and NAHCARE has passed.”
Marks concluded by saying that the next time their contract comes up, he will not automatically renew it, but will put it out for a competitive bid adding, “Let people compete for that contract.”
Defense Attorney Ed O’Reilly of Glocester disagreed saying the Sheriff’s department loses control when there’s a private contractor adding that the Sheriff’s Department needs emergency medical services. He said he believes all corrections officers should be trained as EMT’s but admits it will cost a lot of money to do that.
“Money driven medical care should not exist.”
Former DEA agent Paul Russell said that when people are arrested the Sheriffs Department has the ultimate responsibility for their health care, medication, etc.
“I’m not a big fan of contractors or contract help,” he said.
“We have to protect our interests in reference to inmates and [privatization] leaves us open to legal issues. It may be more costly to have in house [medical care] but it will be more effective,” Russell said.
William Castro also said he opposed privatization and would hire medical services in house.