Saturday, December 20, 2014

County sleeper expense: Health care for inmates

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 11/25/2013

Health care for inmates in jails and detention centers is a large liability of which not many people are aware, Justin Wadkins said.

Wadkins, Franklin County detention center manager, said with the large number of inmates and many of them suffering from mental health issues, having a good medical health services provider is a key part of the correctional system.

Health care for inmates in jails and detention centers is a large liability of which not many people are aware, Justin Wadkins said.

Wadkins, Franklin County detention center manager, said with the large number of inmates and many of them suffering from mental health issues, having a good medical health services provider is a key part of the correctional system.

“We’re dealing with a lot of mentally unstable people and unfortunately jails have kind of become the new state hospitals,” he said.

With the Franklin County Adult Detention Center and Juvenile Detention Center’s health contracts ending this year, Wadkins said, the two detention centers opened bids for a contract with a new health care service provider.

The Franklin County Board of Commissioners heard a presentation from Art Rose of Advanced Correctional Healthcare of Peoria, Ill., Monday morning and commissioners voted to accept the proposal from the company and to enter into contract negotiations.

The annual cost of medical and mental health services for the adult detention center and juvenile detention center would be $80,131.27. Sandy Stanert, registered nurse practitioner, now handles inmates’ health care services and the Elizabeth Layton Center for Hope and Guidance works with inmates on a case-by-case basis for mental health needs.

“Currently the nurse was coming one day a week and was whenever she could get down here,” Wadkins said. “Our county, being as high [of an inmate population], we have people who need to see the nurse.”

Advanced Correctional Healthcare offered more of the services for which the two detention centers were looking, Wadkins said.

“There will be more coverage as far as a nurse being here more to see the inmates,” he said. “They will handle and manage all inmate medical needs like ordering prescriptions, contacting previous doctors of inmates. They provide medical training to the jail staff, whether it be from CPR training to whatever we need. As far as training goes, they’re just kind of an all-in-one deal when it comes to inmate medical needs.”

The jail staff training is what caught Ethel Wallace’s eye, she said, as her staff now has to distribute medication to inmates.

“Providing some training to our staff, I think that is going to be a benefit to us,” Wallace, juvenile services director, said.

Overall cost savings to the county is a benefit as well, Wallace said, because having an on-call doctor available 24 hours a day, seven days a week will help cut down on unnecessary trips to emergency rooms.

“We’ll now have a doctor available to ask questions,” she said. “If someone is sick, we can have a doctor available on-call all the time that can help us determine whether [an inmate] needs to go to the emergency room or not.”

Having one company take over all aspects of inmate health care will help lessen the liability that rests on the county, Wadkins said.

“Whenever someone comes to jail, their medical care needs have to be met, and we want to make sure we’re providing care for them just as we would receive it,” Wadkins said. “With that being said, a company like Advanced Correctional Healthcare, they’re able to handle those needs above and beyond what we’re providing them currently, and reducing the liability a small county jail takes on with medical needs of inmates.”

With 23 inmates now needing medical and mental health services, knowing which inmates really need medical care creates an opportunity for a lawsuit against the county, Wadkins said.

“Inmates come in and don’t always tell us the truth about their medical needs,” he said. “Sometimes they tell us about medical needs, and they don’t really have those medical needs. We’re not necessarily trained as far as medical staff — we’re not nurses or doctors. Having a nurse in the jail more, doing on-site screening of inmates, who is trained in dealing with inmates and figuring out if they’re lying or not about things they need or don’t need — those will be benefits to us.“

Cost savings to the county will benefit county residents, Wadkins said, as the county currently pays for the majority of the medical care for its inmates.

“If an inmate comes in and they have private health insurance, we’d be able to file a claim with that company to get [medical services] paid for,” he said. “However, the majority of people who come and stay long term who have health services provided through the jail of any type, we absorb those costs because the county has to pay for those medical services.”

While many people might think providing medical care to inmates shouldn’t fall back on the shoulders of county residents, Wadkins said, it is cheaper than a lawsuit.

“Providing that inmate with a $4-a-month medication is better than a multi-million dollar lawsuit down the road because we didn’t provide it,” he said. “Inadequate medical care is a top thing that will get jails sued. It used to not be talked about that much, but as time goes on, it’s beginning to be at the forefront of jails in dealing with inmate medical care. We are just attempting to try to stay ahead of the game.”

comments powered by Disqus