The York Daily Record reported this week that the York County Prison’s private health care provider reached a $200,000 settlement with the estate of an inmate who died by suicide in 2016.
The newspaper was able to access the full settlement after it successfully challenged the sealing of the record with legal support from attorneys at the Reporters Committee and the Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic. The York Daily Record sought to make public the settlement between PrimeCare Medical and the estate of Veronique Aundrea Henry after the county initially decided to release only part of the settlement agreement — the $5,000 portion paid by the county — in response to the newspaper’s request for records. However, the county left the public in the dark about the amount PrimeCare paid to settle the estate’s claim that Henry’s death was the result of insufficient mental health care.
“The discrepancy between the actual settlement and the dollar figure the county chose to share in this case shows why the public must always have access to full and complete records,” said Randy Parker, editor of the York Daily Record. “Only when all the facts are on the table can the public properly hold the government and its contractors accountable.”
The county had claimed that it was under no obligation to release the terms of PrimeCare’s settlement with the estate because PrimeCare is not a government entity, and is therefore not subject to Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law. However, the newspaper argued, among other things, that a provision of the law covering organizations that perform “essential government functions” applied to PrimeCare.
On Aug. 5, U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson granted the newspaper’s request in full and ordered the unsealing of docket entries related to PrimeCare’s settlement with the estate.
“Hopefully this is a signal to PrimeCare and other third-party contractors that they can’t hide information through sealing orders,” said Paula Knudsen Burke, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney in Pennsylvania.
The terms of PrimeCare’s settlement with Henry’s estate are especially relevant in light of the fact that York County recently entered into another contract with the health care provider, which was named a defendant in 18 federal lawsuits filed in Pennsylvania last year. According to the York Daily Record, the new contract will begin in October and run through 2025 at a rate of nearly $8 million per year.
“If it’s taxpayer money that’s involved, the taxpayers have a right to know if these contractors are providing services in an adequate manner or if there’s a problem,” Burke said.
Of PrimeCare’s $200,000 payout, more than $100,000 went toward attorney’s fees and court costs, according to the York Daily Record. The remainder of the settlement amount was distributed among Henry’s survivors, including three children and an incarcerated husband, and her estate.
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.