The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 26, 2013

Somerset, company extend deal

Firm provides medical treatment at county jail

Dave Sutor
dsutor@tribdem.com

SOMERSET — A sometimes-controversial working relationship between Somerset County and PrimeCare Medical Inc. remains intact, at least for now.

Commissioners Pamela Tokar-Ickes and John Vatavuk voted to extend an agreement with the Harrisburg-based company that currently provides medical treatment at Somerset County Jail. The arrangement is scheduled to last from April 1 until Sept. 30, although it can be reviewed on a month-to-month basis.

The third commissioner, Joe Betta, opposed the contract. In the process of researching the agreement between the prison and PrimeCare, Betta claims to have interviewed workers who complained about a hostile work environment and sexual harassment.

The agreement with the medical service provider originally expired at the end of 2012, when the commissioners extended it for only three months because of concerns about other allegations, according to Vatavuk. Tokar-Ickes feels the length of the new extension should provide enough time to finish all investigations.

“I find it incredible that I’m being asked to go into a six-month agreement with an organization that has a track record of tolerating mismanagement, interrupting my inquiry and my search for the truth at the jail, and the massive coordinated obstructions that have been thrown before me during my inquiry,” Betta said. “How could I possibly agree to sign a six-month extension?”

PrimeCare Medical Inc. Vice President of Operations Todd Haskins said he could not comment when contacted via telephone after the meeting.

Betta had been conducting interviews on his own until the county prison board told him to stop and let the Somerset Borough Police Department handle the matter during a special meeting on March 15. Taking exception to the decision, he responded to a request for information from Vatavuk by saying, “Because of your coordinated obstructions to my inquiry, the (prison board) determined that it should be turned over to law enforcement. I’m not at liberty to give you statements, and you know that, but it was a nice try.”

No new allegations were brought to light by Betta at the commissioners meeting.

“If there are other complaints over there, at that jail, then they should be writing a formal complaint to the warden, and the warden should address it to HR,” Vatavuk said. “That’s the protocol here. That’s the policy. And, I don’t know, if these other people have complaints, why they haven’t come forward.”

Tokar-Ickes, chairwoman of the prison board, said formal steps are in place to handle workplace accusations.

“Our sexual harassment policy and protocol is very specific,” she said. “It is in our employee handbook. HR does not have any new allegations, which is the protocol to investigate allegations of sexual harassment by the county of Somerset.”

Betta thinks workers are concerned about coming forward for fear of being called a “snitch” or “dirty rat.”

 

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