Inmate health costs create crunch in Bradley

Inmate health costs create crunch in Bradley

March 6th, 2009 by Randall Higgins in Local Regional News

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - The cost of inmate medical care is giving Bradley County commissioners budget headaches.

This week, commissioners voted to spend $29,767 from the general fund to resolve a deficit in the sheriff's inmate health care account. Three months remain in the fiscal year.

"We have avoided the crisis of them shutting down," Commissioner Ed Elkins said Wednesday at a Law Enforcement Committee meeting. But he and others grumbled they hadn't been told about the shortfall.

"I do not like surprises," Mr. Elkins said.

"Somebody should have seen this coming," Commissioner Jeff Yarber added.

In January the sheriff's office contract with inmate health provider Detention Health Care Associates ended. Since then the county has paid for care month to month.

The committee tabled a request to transfer $200,000 more to the inmate medical care line item. Members voted to ask the sheriff's office to help find some money for inmate care and said they would look for options.

Committee Chairman Howard Thompson mentioned possibly stationing county emergency medical technicians at the jail, seeking bids for a new contract or returning to in-house care by the county.

The county switched to a contract service several years ago partly because of fast-growing medical costs.

Capt. Jim Hodgson of the sheriff's office said Cover Tennessee care for indigents stops at the jail door. Bradley County houses state inmates but must include health care in its $35-per-prisoner daily reimbursement, he said.

Mr. Elkins said that if there is a new contract, the county, not the providers, should write it and the county attorney should review it before the commission votes.