Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at

Generally, when running a government body, it’s not great when a decision to potentially spend more than $4 billion fits the description “disappointing and inexplicable,” but here we are.

The Associated Press Friday reported the Department of Corrections awarded a new contract for health care services to Wexford Health Sources, based in Pittsburgh. The initial five years will be worth $1.956 billion and a five-year renewal option is pegged at $2.201 billion.

If you’re familiar with Wexford, it could be from the past three decades of servicing Illinois penitentiaries. Or it could be from reports of it “facing numerous multimillion-dollar lawsuits that accuse the company of delayed or shoddy health care and backlash for relying on off-site doctors to determine whether and what treatment is necessary,” according to The AP’s John O’Connor.

In April, WBEZ-FM reported on a report detailing staff shortages for prison medical workers, noting that data followed “more than a decade after a federal lawsuit alleged medical care in Illinois prisons was so poor it violated the constitution.” In 2015, an expert panel on appointment from a federal judge found the system “unable to meet minimal constitutional standards,” according to the AP.

By 2023, some conditions had worsened since those proclamations. This summer, members of a House committee urged the DOC to hire another firm. Among those testifying was Camille Bennett, who directs the Corrections Reform Project for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. She’s the source of the “disappointing and inexplicable” quote, but it only takes a few clicks on to finds her name in several releases over the years fairly blasting officials for dodging a responsibility to fix the problem, including periods of several years of refusing to implement court-ordered reforms.

Wexford wasn’t the only bidder. VitalCore Health Strategies, based in Topeka, Kansas, came in at $673 million less, but didn’t get the gig. The company is not yet a decade old, but touts itself as prepared specifically to “reduce the need for off-site services, by ensuring that our medical staff is prepared and capable of assessing and treating patients in emergency medical situations.”

VitalCore also has been sued – as recently as earlier this month in Mississippi – but doesn’t have nearly the number of red flags as the winning bidder. Someone in charge at IDOC, or higher up, owes taxpayers an explanation for why, even in a small field, only two vendors submitted qualified bids and why the more expensive option with the shoddy track record won.

It’s hard to see how the new contract is a positive for Illinois or those in its care. No one in charge should be able to skirt blame if conditions stagnate or worsen.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, @sth749. He can be reached at