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Inmate death probed in Vt.

The Associated Press
Published: 7/13/2020 9:13:52 PM
Modified: 7/13/2020 9:13:49 PM

NEWPORT, Vt. — Investigations are underway into the death of an African American inmate in December who died as a result of an undiagnosed tumor in his airway, Vermont’s Interim Corrections Commissioner James Baker said Monday as he announced that a Kansas-based company has won a three-year contract to provide health care services to Vermont inmates.

Kenneth Johnson, 60, repeatedly told staff that he could not breathe, Baker said. “No one should die in our custody the way that Mr. Johnson passed away,” he said.

Johnson was an inmate at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport.

Baker also announced the creation of the office of professional standards, to replace the office of professional development and training. It’s part of the department’s reshaped focus on recruiting, hiring, training, constituent outreach and equity, fairness and impartiality in our systems, he said.

“These changes we’re making are critical to the evolution of the Vermont Department of Corrections,” he said.

In terms of health care, VitalCore Health Strategies started July 1, replacing Centurian, which is headquartered in Virginia. Its nearly $20 million bid was the lowest of three bidders, including Centurian, Vermont Corrections Department officials said Monday.

Vermont’s is the company’s first state contract, according to chief executive officer Viola Riggen. VitalCore provides services for large county jails and its management team has experience overseeing and managing very large systems, said Riggen, who served as health authority for the Kansas Department of Corrections for over 10 years.

“Viola brings her vision to providing health care to correctional institutions with the idea that there should be a standard of care provided inside correctional facilities and institutions that parallel standards of care that are in communities and also a very heavy focus on behavioral health care,” Baker said. “We share those values with her.”

A big push to make these announcements Monday was the death of Johnson, Baker said.

The Corrections Department is conducting an internal and personnel review and the office of the public defender prisoner’s rights office is completing a report, Baker said. The secretary of state’s office has looked at the licenses of the healthcare providers involved, he said. The department has also asked the Human Services secretary and a law firm to look at how Johnson died in custody.

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