FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Dr. Rob Karas, the jail's current doctor, was awarded a new contract for 2023 after the medical provider pulled out of his current contract earlier this month.
Karas dropped out of the contract due to the increased cost of malpractice insurance, according to the sheriff-elect. Forcing the department to begin their search for a new provider.
"It was important to us to have somebody identified and on site ready to take over January 1," said Washington County Sheriff-Elect Jay Cantrell.
Thursday, it was reported that Karas health care won the upcoming year's contract over two other providers who applied, Turn Key Health Clinics out of Oklahoma and Advanced Correctional Healthcare out of Tennessee. Those two other companies applied to do the job for just over $2.3 million and $5.6 million respectively.
"It is no change in operation," explained Cantrell. "This was a seamless transition. Certainly, if some other company had bid lower, and we had accepted them, then it'd be a bit of a bigger challenge."
The bid by Karas was over $2.2 million, $132,000 lower than the second-lowest bid this year.
According to Cantrell, Karas was comparatively only offered $1,318,900 for his work in 2022.
Sheriff-Elect Cantrell believes the decision to award the contract to Karas was appropriate. "He submitted his bit and had it not been the lowest, I suppose he probably wouldn't have been selected."
The 2023 contract awarded to Karas is $550,000 above the county's budgeted line item for detainee health care, listed at $1.6 million. Cantrell told 5NEWS his office warned the Quorum Court earlier this month, either group to be awarded the contract, would be above the budget.
"We were fairly certain it was going to be more expensive, no matter who did it, that it was going to be more expensive," said Cantrell.
However, not everyone agrees that the bid process was done with due diligence or with enough time.
"Did we get the best deal? Are we getting the best medical care, the best services for the people we lock at our jail? We don't know that because we really didn't give anyone else a chance," says Beth Coger, District 9 Justice of the Peace Elect.
Coger is also the co-founder of the Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition and is currently suing the county over Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) concerns.
She says the increase in pay will come out of taxpayer pockets.
Cantrell explained the contract will next go to the Washington County Judge to be signed, and then the Quorum Court will vote to approve the budget.
"I'm hoping that my colleagues on the court will be paying attention to this and that they'll do their research and due diligence and be prepared to ask some hard questions," said Coger about the next steps in the process.
The news comes after the jail came under fire during the pandemic when Dr. Karas prescribed the controversial drug ivermectin to inmates with COVID-19.
A lawsuit was then filed by ACLU on behalf of the inmates who were allegedly given veterinary medicine without their consent.
Deciding factors for who would get the job included the necessary nine references, malpractice insurance, proximity to the jail, amount of staff, and the cost.
Cantrell said the lawsuit against Karas was not a factor in evaluating the bid contracts.
Washington County released this sheet, showing the bids from the top three contenders:
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