Richmond County inmates pay for care under new plan

County aims to cut costs, unneeded inmate visits

 

Richmond County sheriff’s officials hope a new program to charge inmates for some of the medical services they receive will rein in one of the growing costs of running the county jail.

On Aug. 1, Richmond County inmates began having to pay a $5 copayment whenever they required medical treatment, according to Maj. Gene Johnson, who is in charge of the detention facilities.

Medical services cost the sheriff’s office about $5 million in 2011, roughly $800,000 more than the contract for service was supposed to cover, Johnson said.

The inmates are charged through the same electronic accounts they use to purchase snacks and personal items at more than 40 kiosks at the jail. Family members can add money to accounts through kiosks in the jail lobby or online. Money is added or deducted without jail personnel touching any cash, Johnson said.

He said the copayment is a way to help manage some health care costs while discouraging inmates from abusing the system by making unnecessary trips to sick call.

“We’re not going to charge them if they are injured or if they have a chronic problem,” Johnson said. “But some of them are not going down there for medical; they go down there to see the pretty nurse. This is going to stop some of that.”

The Charles B. Webster Detention Center on Phinizy Road has its own medical wing, which can house 144 inmates. Correct Care Solutions, a Tennessee company that specializes in providing medical care in jails and prisons, operates the wing and provides round-the-clock care.

The medical staff has more than 20,000 patient contacts each month, which adds up to more than 240,000 visits a year, according to Pat Cummiskey, Correct Care’s executive vice president.

“Our medical staff is responding to over 1,100 sick calls each month,” he said in an e-mail. “Currently we also provide dental services to over 200 patients a month.”

He said the biggest part of those interactions involve giving medication to inmates, which occurs twice each day. On average, about 400 Rich­mond County inmates are on medication at any given time, he said.

Aside from injuries and common ailments, any jail or prison is going to have a significant number of inmates who require mental health treatment, Johnson said.

“We have mental health personnel on duty every day, and a psychiatrist comes in twice a week,” he said.

Cummiskey said Correct Care’s mental health staff sees about 500 patients each month.

Cummiskey said copayments are becoming more common with inmates because they have the tendency to overuse health services.

Correct Care does not benefit from the copayment, and no patients are denied services because copayments are processed after service is rendered and only if funds exist, Cummiskey said.

Johnson said it is too soon to say how the policy will affect the health care budget, but officers will be watching sick call numbers to see whether it has an impact. Either way, medical services will be something jails will have to continue providing, no matter the cost, he said.

“Some of them have some pretty bad illnesses,” Johnson said. “If they were on the street, they would never go to a doctor.”

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