A company connected to former Tulsa County Undersheriff Brian Edwards’ wife has been paid nearly $300,000 since 2012 to perform physical examinations on job applicants for $800 each, a tenfold increase over what the Sheriff’s Office previously paid, an investigation by The Frontier has found.
In a 2012 deposition, Edwards said he changed the requirements for pre-employment physical exams before he left the Sheriff’s Office. Those changes enabled his wife’s employer, Physical Therapy of Tulsa, to receive the contract from then-Sheriff Stanley Glanz.
Edwards said in the deposition that the sheriff knew that Edwards’ wife, a physician, worked for the company. He declined an interview request from The Frontier.
Undersheriff Rick Weigel recently wrote a letter stating the Sheriff’s Office was terminating the contract as part of several measures to save money. The agency has struggled with financial issues as the controversy over former Sheriff Stanley Glanz has continued to grow.
Glanz was indicted by a grand jury on two counts: refusal to release a report on reserve deputy Robert Bates and willful violation of the law after accepting a $600 county car allowance while driving a county car.
The county’s contract with Physical Therapy of Tulsa began at midnight May 1, 2012, the same day Edwards began a new job at the Grand River Dam Authority after 31 years at the Sheriff’s Office. The county has paid the company $282,000 since the contract began, records show.
Additionally, the Sheriff’s Office paid Edwards’ wife, Vicky Weidner, a $200-per-hour consulting fee the year after Edwards left to help craft a new medical provider contract for the jail. Weidner also reviewed bids by companies vying for the jail’s $5 million-per-year contract and served on a committee that awarded the bid to Armor Correctional Health Services Inc.
Weidner is a former emergency room physician at Saint Francis Hospital and former medical director for Tulsa Life Flight. In an interview with The Frontier, she said she developed the extensive pre-employment physical examination used by TCSO after learning how fitness impacts performance, on-the-job injuries and employee retention in law enforcement agencies.
Though her work developing the new testing process occurred before the contract was awarded, Weidner said she had nothing to do with her employer, Physical Therapy of Tulsa, obtaining the contract. The company’s president is Helen Washecheck, a physical therapist.
“I had nothing to do with developing the contract. It came as a complete surprise to me,” Weidner said.
She said she did not charge the county for extensive research she did that led to the new process. Weidner said she was interested in the issue because her father was an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper and her son and husband are both in law enforcement.
“I helped in a volunteer way just because this is where my heart is.”
Weidner said she does conduct the exams and is paid for her services by Physical Therapy of Tulsa.
Records show the county did not seek proposals from other companies to conduct the physicals. Other county departments pay $145 per physical for new hires to another company, One Source Occupational Medicine Inc.
Deputy Justin Green, a spokesman for TCSO, said the Sheriff’s Office previously paid $85 to One Source for applicant physicals. Green said the agency expanded the physical testing for applicants in hopes of drawing more qualified deputies and detention officers and saving on personnel costs in the long run.
“The (intent) was to reduce workers compensation claims and find better, well-suited people for the positions we were trying to fill,” Green said.
The screenings by Physical Therapy of Tulsa also include a drug test, Green said.
Chief Deputy Michelle Robinette was named acting sheriff last week after Weigel resigned. She has not returned calls seeking comment and Green said she was declining interview requests.
Robinette was scheduled to give a press briefing Tuesday but then TCSO cancelled it several hours later.
“At this time, Michelle Robinette is the Acting Sheriff while Interim Sheriff Richard Weigel is officially on vacation until his retirement date of January 31,” Green said in an email to the media. “We will announce a new date and time of the press conference after February 1 when Undersheriff Robinette will be the official Interim Sheriff.”
Weidner said the Sheriff’s Office has data showing the success of the physical testing program but that she does not have access to the data.
Workers compensation claims fell, as did turnover among deputies with the new program, Weidner said.
“We were not able to be as successful with retention on the detention officers,” she said.
“I have no question that we gave them a huge bang for their buck. … If you went into a room and looked at the people who were hired before our exam and were hired after our exam … you can pick them out.”
County Commissioner Karen Keith said Friday that she was unaware of Weidner’s ties to the company. She also had no idea Weidner had been hired to review the RFP and proposals for the jail’s medical contract provider.
All contracts and major expenditures by the Sheriff’s Office are subject to approval by the Board of County Commissioners. Records show Keith, along with Commissioners Ron Peters and John Smaligo, voted to approve Weidner’s consulting contract without discussion.
Asked whether she should have known the terms of the TCSO contract with Physical Therapy of Tulsa before approving it, Keith said, “We have people who are supposed to go through and look at all the contracts.”
Tulsa County Public Information Officer Michael Willis said contracts are reviewed by the county purchasing department and the District Attorney’s Office before being presented to county commissioners for their consideration.
When asked why other companies weren’t asked to submit proposals for the new physical exams, Weidner said Physical Therapy of Tulsa provides the county with a unique mix of professionals to handle the job.
“I just don’t know who else they would have gone to,” Weidner said.
State law does not require bids on contracts for professional services but most government agencies use a request for proposal (RFP) process to find the most cost-efficient and qualified providers.
According to the contract, exams require a registered nurse, a licensed occupational therapist and a physician to complete the 26-point process.
Weidner said the exam process for job applicants takes about four hours.
“There’s a reading part, we test vision, smelling, color vision, we do an endurance test on the treadmill. They go through all these different exercises … and then they come to me, the physician, for the most complete physical exam you’ve ever had, except we don’t do pelvic or rectal exams.”
She said the physical also involves numerous medical tests.
“We do tons and tons of lab testing to look at kidneys, livers, we get all their medical records from injuries they’ve had before.”
The goal is to save the county money on workers compensation costs, lost time from injuries and also to prevent officers from using excessive force, she said.
“This is completely with a view of improving the quality of the law enforcement officer … and they don’t kill somebody else because they can’t do their job,” Weidner said. “We want them not to cost the citizens of Oklahoma.”
However, it’s unclear whether the expanded tests, which cost about $100,000 per year, actually saved the county anything or resulted in higher quality employees. Records show Glanz and the department have been named in nearly 60 state and federal lawsuits since the contract began, many involving allegations of excessive force by employees and deaths in the jail.
The contract began at midnight May 1, the first day of Edwards’ new job with the Grand River Dam Authority, and was renewed twice. Payments to the company have continued through 2015, for a total of $283,000 paid over the past three years, more than $7,000 per month.
The company was formed as an LLC in July 2009 by Washecheck, listing the name PT Consultants LLC and a residential address. In January 2010, Washecheck opened Physical Therapy of Tulsa Inc., at 6767 S. Yale Ave.
In a 2012 deposition for a civil lawsuit against the county, Edwards was asked whether any of his family members worked for the Sheriff’s Office. Edwards responded that his wife conducted pre-employment physicals for Physical Therapy of Tulsa.
When asked if she was paid for the physicals, Edwards responded: “Well yeah.”
After additional questioning, Edwards said he was involved in helping his wife’s clinic obtain the contract.
“Prior to me leaving, I put in place changes in the pre-employment physical … and that was a derivative of that,” Edwards said during the deposition.
Asked whether Glanz knew Edwards’ wife worked for the clinic, Edwards replied: “Yes.”
While she continued to conduct physicals for the Sheriff’s Office, Weidner was also hired to advise the county on a new medical contract for the jail.
In September 2013, Weidner signed a consulting contract with the Sheriff’s Office to provide “technical assistance” in developing a new contract for the jail’s medical provider.
Though county commissioners approved the contract Sept. 3, 2013, Weidner was already working on the new medical contract. She later billed the county for a one-hour meeting Sept. 2 “to narrow selection down to top 4” medical contractors.
The meeting was among 20 hours worth of work that Weidner billed the county for in September 2013, totaling $4,000.
Similar to the earlier contract benefitting Weidner’s employer, records do not reflect any competitive process for her consulting contract.
“Tim Albin called me up and just asked me to look at the medical provider. The other one was a hot mess,” Weidner said.
The county has been named repeatedly in civil rights lawsuits following prisoner deaths, injuries and rapes in the jail. In one case, jail workers failed to provide medical or psychiatric care to Elliott Williams as he lay dying on the floor for five days in 2011.
A jail nurse said she believed Williams was faking paralysis after ramming his head into a window, the suit alleges. A video of his last hours shows jail workers setting food and water nearly out of reach.
Weidner said she told Albin “the one thing that I can help you do is look at the contract itself — at the day-in and day-out medical care that is given to these inmates” and create a contract “that will try to ensure whoever you choose as medical provider does the right thing.”
In addition to crafting a new set of requirements for the medical provider, Weidner also reviewed proposals from bidders for the contract, which pays about $5 million annually.
She rated Florida-based Armor Correctional Health Services the highest of the four companies chosen as finalists for the contract.
Weidner said she was among about 15 people who voted on the contract. She said she believes she was chosen for the consulting contract because of her expertise in emergency medicine and knowledge of TCSO employee healthcare.
Another doctor the Sheriff’s Office had previously worked with was out of the country, she said.
“I was kind of like the only person they knew and they knew that I knew about the detention officers and stuff.”
She said she believes companies often make promises in proposals that they don’t keep in order to obtain government contracts.
“They can promise you everything in that document but then they write this crazy contract where they say they have five days to get someone their medicine. … I wasn’t that much help figuring out who to use because I just don’t do enough of that, going through a proposal and someone’s promising me the moon.”
County commission minutes do not reflect whether Armor was the low bidder and do not show any discussion by commissioners on the contract before they voted to approve it.
News accounts stated the contract cost about $200,000 more annually than the jail’s medical contract at the time but was touted as a more efficient provider that would save costs in the future.