Augusta leaders take steps to change jail health care provider

Published: Sep. 12, 2023 at 3:24 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Richmond County jail inmates could be getting their health care from a new provider soon.

The matter was discussed Tuesday at committee meetings of the Augusta Commission.

A change over a decade in the making was the introduction of a contract for new medical provider at Richmond County jails. Since December 2010, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office has been contracting Correct Care Solutions, now known as WellPath, as the jail medical provider.

“This today is a good step in the right direction. At the end of the day, everybody’s health counts. Good, bad, we have to take care of them,” said Commissioner Catherine Smith-McKnight, who is also the chairman of the Public Safety Committee.

A new provider for the first time in more than a decade. The decision was unanimous on Tuesday.


WellPath has come under fire, even before the commission approved a one-year extension just last year.

On Aug. 9, 2022, the Augusta Commission approved a one-year contract renewal for WellPath for $6.45 million.

News 12 has been investigating WellPath for years on the mistreatment of inmates, particularly in the deaths of Debra Leverett and Ashley Asuncion.

So why did it take so long to change providers?

“I’m not sure, I don’t have an answer for that right now,” said Smith-McKnight.

Commissioner Sean Frantom said: “I’m not sure. I mean we have so many issues.”

Commissioner Bobby Williams said: “I’m not sure why. I wasn’t aware of the ladies that passed away under our care at the prison.”

Regardless, it’s a new direction the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office helped negotiate.

Frank Fletcher, Senior VP with VitalCore Health Strategies, said of the new contract deal: “I’m not familiar with the specific issues that are going on right now, but we’ve added a full-time psychiatric nurse practitioner as a part of the contract, we’ve added a psychiatrist, and we’ve also added a couple of behavioral health professionals.”

It’s a new commitment that could last as far into 2027 or even 2029.

Frantom said: “Mental health is such a big issue, and we’ve got to do better and we’ve got to have the best.”

Smith-McKnight said: “And we will be following up with them too.”

Now that this moves to next week’s full commission. With WellPath’s contract set to expire on Dec. 31, city leaders are looking at three-year contract with VitalCore Health Strategy LLC for more than $6.67 million for just the first year.

Another big change is discussion with city leaders on renaming three Augusta-Richmond County facilities. This includes renaming the Riverwalk after former Mayor McIntyre, a baseball field at Diamond Lakes Regional Park after former Commissioner Andy Cheek, and the utility building after former Director Tom Weidemeier.

Last week, people had the chance to weigh in on these renamings, and will have one more opportunity to weigh in at next week’s full commission meeting.

There will also be an update on how third-party company, Developmental Associates LLC, on how it plans to market the Augusta administrator’s position. Takiyah Douse is the interim administrator for the time being.

All items approved in Tuesday’s committee meetings move to the Augusta Commission next week for full approval.