Medical services for inmates dent BCSO’s budget

By BRIAN GRAVES brian.graves@clevelandbanner.com
Posted 4/21/17

Caring for the medical needs of inmates is a costly but necessary requirement of any jail.

Those costs are making a dent in the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office budget.

Members of the …

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Medical services for inmates dent BCSO’s budget

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Caring for the medical needs of inmates is a costly but necessary requirement of any jail.

Those costs are making a dent in the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office budget.

Members of the Bradley County Commission’s Jail Committee met Thursday to hear the numbers now facing the department because of those costs.

The jail currently contracts with Quality Correctional Health Care Inc. to provide medical services to the inmates.

Under the contract, QCHC pays up to $75,000 for inmate medical bills for services performed outside of the jail.

The problem which has now arisen stems from the fact medical costs for inmates at the jail have exceeded that $75,000 amount by $42,000 and it will probably get worse before it gets better.

Sheriff Eric Watson said he has directed all department heads “to be very conservative as much as possible for the remainder of the budget year,” regarding purchases.

The sheriff said he has also directed BCSO Director of Finance Cassandra Burgess to investigate any shortages that may have come from lack of reimbursements in the areas of prisoner transport costs and medical care.

He said Burgess has also been requested to look into two line items which will exceed this year’s budgeted amount — jail medical costs and jail maintenance costs.

“According to the most recent financial report, our budget as a whole is right on time and right on target, at 76 percent,” Watson said. “I’m very proud of that.”

“However, our main concern is the jail maintenence,” the sheriff said.

Watson is asking for a supplement which he said “probably shouldn’t be taken out of tax money.”

“We’re asking for the money because we have needs in the remainder of the budget year to help us maintain our certification in the next inspection,” he said.

Watson said there is additional revenue now coming in due to the recent renegotiations on costs for state and federal inmates.

“We are asking these funds to come from that additional money,” he said.

“We must keep our jail up to TCI standards with the costs of the day to day operations of a jail as well as meeting the medical needs of our inmates regardless of cost,” Watson said. “In these two areas, we have no choice.”

The sheriff said there is no way there can be any accurate predictions as to what medical costs will be incurred as well as any “unusual maintenence costs” that might arise in “an aging jail facility that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Watson said the number of arrests by county officers alone went from 2,737 in 2015 to 3,412 in 2016. Those numbers do not include arrests by Cleveland Police, the Tennessee Highway Patrol, or other law enforcement agencies.

“We have had inmates with heart attacks, some with HIV (which costs $2,400 for their medication), and we had an inmate a few weeks ago that actually had a baby and we had to pay for that,” he said. “We have had to fly two inmates to Erlanger in Chattanooga. And, we’re having to pay that bill.”

Former Sheriff Dan Gilley, who now serves as the maintenence coordinator at the jail, said his numbers which projected a $200,000 revenue increase from federal marshal prisoners with a 70 percent rate of occupancy appears to be holding true.

“I still think that’s a pretty good projection,” Gilley said.

Watson said he believes the new revenue should be used to take care of the medical overage.

Burgess said she had spoken to QCHC and has asked for a monthly report, as well as reviewing all medical bills from the past six months.

“I was told by QCHC there are still bills they are still negotiating,” Burgess said. “I can only assume they are negotiating the prices because I have not yet seen the actual bills.”

Committee Chairman Jeff Yarber said it would be hard for him to support extending QCHC’s contract “because if they are going to come back to us for more money, I don’t intend to pay anything until I see exactly what we’ve been charged for.”

Another question is what medical expensed have been paid for state and pre-trial inmates.

“We’ve had the argument with the state before,” Yarber said. “We shouldn’t be having to do that.”

Burgess said she thinks most of the current bills are for local inmates.

“I am in the process of going back to make sure if any of these bills are for the state inmates so we can ask for reimbursement from the state,” she said. “I can do that for up to six months back and that is why I have asked for those records.”

Watson said he will be meeting with staff over the next few weeks to determine whether the BCSO will seek to extend OCHC’s contract or to extend the offer for bidding on the services.

Gilley also presented a list of items that are needed to keep the jail facility in good condition.

“It’s not in bad condition, but it’s something you just have to keep on top of,” Gilley said.

The request of $40,000 will be forwarded to the Commission’s Finance committee.

The Jail Committee agreed to meet again on May 9.

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