MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Muskegon County will pay about $2 million a year to a private company to provide medical care at the jail and its juvenile detention center — a little less than the cost of the settlement for a man who died at the jail nearly three years ago.

That’s more than $500,000 higher than the $1.4 million it had paid Tennessee-based Wellpath.

The county Board of Commissioners agreed Thursday to sign a contract to pay Kansas-based VitalCore Health Strategies $1.95 million this year, with the cost jumping to $2.1 million by the third year of the three-year deal, according to a copy of the contract obtained by News 8.

“We’re moving forward with it after looking at different companies and speaking to some local sheriffs around here,” Muskegon County Sheriff Michael Poulin said before the deal was finalized. “You know what you know and you learn what you learn. You make appropriate changes as you learn things.”

Under Wellpath’s care, two inmates died in a year at the jail.

Paul Bulthouse’s death in 2019 led to criminal charges and a $2.4 million settlement with the county. Four guards are still awaiting trial.

An undated courtesy photo of Paul Bulthouse. (The Bulthouse family)

Wellpath also settled with the Bulthouse family for an undisclosed amount.

In February 2020, Tiffany Davis, a 39-year-old mother of three, died of multiple brain hemorrhages after suffering for days with an infection at the jail.

tiffany davis
An undated courtesy photo of Tiffany Davis and her children.

A third inmate, Marleon Danell Johnson, 32, died last month under the care of county-run HealthWest after he was found unresponsive in his cell. State police are investigating.

Over the last 10 years, Wellpath, under that name and its former name, Correct Care Solutions, has faced more than 2,000 federal lawsuits, according to a review of cases in U.S. District Courts across the country.

During that same stretch, the county’s new medical provider has faced 10 federal lawsuits.

“I’m quite confident in this company,” Poulin said. “I am, or we wouldn’t be moving forward with them.”

HealthWest has been providing medical care at the jail since the county cut ties with Wellpath, but it no longer has the workers to do the job.

“They have stafff leaving and they’re just not able to keep up with what our needs are,” Poulin said.

VitalCore said it provides health care for about 45,000 offenders in 13 states, including Michigan. That includes inmates at the Kent and Ottawa county jails.

Kent County, with a jail three times bigger than Muskegon’s, last year signed a contract with the company for $6.2 million.

“I’m happy with the services being provided,” said Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young, though she acknowledged that COVID-19 has made it difficult for the company to hire and keep health care workers at the Kent County jail.

“They have worked very hard to meet our needs regardless of that and to work closely with us to ensure that the medical needs of the inmates are provided for,” she said.

On Friday, VitalCore posted job openings for the Muskegon County Jail.

A VitalCore spokesperson said the company has been at the jail this week offering jobs to those already working there.

“The facility’s current provider, HealthWest, is being very cooperative in ensuring a smooth transition,” said Vice President of Marketing Elizabeth Gillespie. VitalCore plans to start providing care on Sunday.