by James Coleman —

The business relationship between Shelby County and healthcare provider Wellpath remains on life support after the Shelby County Board of Commissioners gave the OK to a pair of extensions to provide services to the county’s jail, correction center and juvenile court detention.

Commissioners approved the extensions during their Monday (April 12) meeting.

Wellpath has contracted with the county since 2013. The most recent agreement expired on June 30, 2018, followed by a series of extensions. 

The 12-month extension for the jail and corrections center costs $19.7 million. The six-month extension for juvenile court detention runs $903,808. To date, the county has shelled out to the $161.1 million to the Nashville-based provider.

Commissioner Tami Sawyer bemoaned that “we are into another extension that will take us into December of this year, leading it to last nine months past this body’s tenure. I really urge folks who are in charge of this to figure it out.”

Item sponsor Van Turner Jr. said, “Hopefully, we can hunker down and do what we are charged to do.” 

One of the reasons the last round of long-term contract negotiations fell apart in 2018 was the lack of contracts to minority or women-owned businesses (MWOB) awarded locally by Wellpath. Competitor Corizon – the county’s provider prior to Wellpath’s tenure – offered a bid that included $40 million over five years to MWOB.

Wellpath subsequently accused the commission of rescinding an agreed to contract as well as improper negotiations with another entity. A lawsuit asserted bad faith negotiating and  alleged that the Brentwood, Tenn.-based Corizon listed 16 MWOB awarded contracts with conflict of interests that included ties to members of the commission. 

The suit also questioned the qualification status of some of the companies with the Shelby County Equal Opportunity Compliance vendor directory.

MWOB-awarded contracts must belong to the directory to qualify for contracts. The county is awaiting a disparity study due around the end of the extension. It will highlight the need for percentage goals for MWOB contracts. The contract is expected to include mental health services for prisoners that aren’t written into current agreements.

“Wellpath has made strides to bring lawsuits if they do not receive this contract, accusing not only the county but commissioners of misdeeds in this contract, and I think they shouldn’t be rewarded for that,” said Sawyer.

The final vote on Monday’s extension was 11-1-1. In favor of the extensions were Commissioners Eddie Jones, Brandon Morrison, Amber Mills, David C. Bradford, Mick Wright, Mark Billingsley, Michael Whaley, Willie F. Brooks Jr., Mickell M. Lowery, Edmund Ford Jr. and Reginald Milton. 

Sawyer was the lone no vote. Turner abstained.