Monday, December 31, 2007
The Mesa County Jail has budgeted $1.39 million to provide health care next year to its inmates — a more than 41 percent increase over the $982,128 spent in 2007.
“We about had a cow,” Commissioner Janet Rowland said. “It is a lot of money.”
Although the contract with Englewood-based Correctional Healthcare Management allows for upward adjustments of a few percentage points each year, the true increase comes every three years when the medical-services contract is put out for bid.
When the contract is up for renewal again in 2010, there could be another 30 to 50 percent increase in the contract amount, said Commander Steve Farlow, who oversees jail operations.
Although several companies showed interest in providing medical, dental and mental health services for the next three years at the jail, only one official bid was received.
“This was the only company that bid on it, so we didn’t have much of an option,” Rowland said.
The reasons for the increase includes inflation, higher medicine costs “and our volumes are increasing,” said County Administrator Jon Peacock. “We are still seeing average overall jail population increasing.”
The Mesa County Jail’s population has actually diminished slightly in the past year because of changes in arrest standards that keep those awaiting trial out of jail, but the numbers are increasing. Since 2004, the jail’s daily population has varied between 349 and 383, according to the sheriff’s department.
Farlow estimated the jail might see close to 8,000 inmates for 2007.
The steep increase in costs has spurred the county to look at ways of reducing costs in the future.
“We certainly are going to be working with the sheriff’s department to look at additional opportunities to mange health costs,” Peacock said. “We are very early in looking at this.”
The county is required to provide minimal health care services for inmates, per state law. If the county did not provide health care to inmates, it could be sued.
“Just the liability alone is worth it to us,” Rowland said.
The inmates are not receiving lavish treatments, according to officials. For example, dental care is limited to filling cavities or performing extractions. There are no root canals or regular cleanings. “It is your basic health care,” Farlow said.
Inmates have sick call two times a week, but it is not free. Inmates pay an $8 fee to see a doctor, a $5 fee to see a nurse and $8 to see the dentist. Prescription refills are $4 each and any lab work or X-rays cost $4.
The fees are well below the actual costs, but it does defray some of the expense. “And all that we make goes back into the county’s general fund,” Farlow said.
The county does not pay for the care of pre-existing conditions — such as pregnancy or a pre-existing cancer — that inmates may need medical care for while incarcerated, Farlow said.
The new contract also provides increased mental-health care. For the first time, a person will be on staff over the weekends to provide inmates with such care.
Overall, the contract calls for the equivalent of about 15 full-time medical personnel working at the jail, with varying numbers of medical professionals available depending on the hour and day of the week.
The medical contract also has a built-in $12,000 allowance for inmates with medical conditions requiring specialized treatment to go off site. Last year, the department spent $48,000 on off-site visits for inmates, Farlow said.
Grand Junction Sentinel