Commission balks at inmate health care price tag

By Argen Duncan: PNT senior writer

The cost of a contract for county inmate health care has the Roosevelt County Commission looking for other options.

The commissioners expressed unhappiness with the $232,000 price of the contract for County Detention Center inmate health care at their meeting Tuesday in the County Courthouse. They voted to table the issue until the next meeting to gather more information and investigate other options.

Correctional Healthcare Management Inc. of Colorado was the only company to respond to the county’s request for proposals for health care services.

Commissioner Jake Lopez said he wanted to see what else was available.

“It’s like there’s no competition,” he said.

Commissioner Gene Creighton asked for information on inmate health care expenditures for the past year or two.

County Manager Charlene Hardin said the law requires the county to provide health care for inmates.

“It’s an obligation we can’t turn our heads to,” she said.

Commission Chairman David Sanders said although supporters of the contract cited laws enacted in the 1970s and ‘80s, the county has been offering fewer health care services than are now proposed, such as simply having a much less expensive contract with a local doctor.

Gary McWilliams of Correctional Healthcare Management said the county had been “dodging a bullet.” He said without the additional services, the county runs the risk of being liable for incidents and of possible federal intervention.

The $232,000 one-year contract would provide a number of services including physical and mental health, pharmacy, training, ambulance transportation and corporate oversight.

Correctional Healthcare Management would also provide a full-time registered nurse who would be on call 24 hours a day; a mental health practitioner for four hours a week; and a doctor for two hours a week plus being on call.

Hardin said the price would cover up to 80 inmates, the average jail population, and any additional people would cost 76 cents per inmate per day.

McWilliams said county officials could review and change the contract in a year if they weren’t satisfied.

People lose their ability to access Medicare and Medicaid in jail, he said.

Burdine said the Veteran’s Administration also stops providing health care during incarceration, and if inmates had insurance through their job, they lose it when they lose their jobs because of jailtime.

Hardin said the county uses much of its indigent health care funds for inmates.

County Attorney Randy Knudson said he perceived the jail was trying to go from no health care to “Cadillac” services.

“Is there no middle option?” he asked.

Todd Murphy of Correctional Healthcare Management said the company provided only necessary services.

Correctional Healthcare Management would provide medical staff, tight restrictions and pharmacy services that cost less because the company could buy in bulk and return unused medicine, Murphy said.

In other business, County Treasurer Micki Williams reported that she moved most of the county’s money from the state pool that suffered losses to First American Financial investments. Only the amount of money the state requires in the pool is left there, she said.