I am pleased to announce the implementation of a new healthcare program at the Richland County Jail intended to protect the county from liability, maintain a legal standard of inmate care and contain health care costs for the taxpayers. Since the death of long time physician Dr. Richard Edwards we at the jail had been struggling with providing consistent and ongoing health care to our local inmates.
Local doctors and nurses had done their best after the death of long time jail doctor, Dr. Richard Edwards, however due to changing “state mandates” regarding inmate health care, it was obvious to me that it would become increasingly difficult for us to meet and maintain the State of Wisconsin requirements using the current mix of paid and volunteering medical personnel. A change had to be made.
In looking at the issue I had been talking with other sheriffs from all around the state of Wisconsin. They too had been experiencing similar issues with their inmate health care and were struggling with the questions of how to meet the new “standards of inmate care” while at the same time managing a reasonable budget. Some had chosen to engage into a contract with a private care providers who specialized solely with inmate health care.
In checking around the state I was fortunate to find that our neighboring county, Iowa County, had chosen a few years ago to change from our current local paid/volunteer system to a specialized provider for many of the same reasons that we are facing. In talking with Iowa County Sheriff Steve Michek and evaluating their jail inmate health care program at the Iowa County Jail, I was convinced that switching to a private inmate care provider with a single focus and access to lower cost medication and medical supplies would save our county money in the long run and still meet the new standards of care that were being enacted in the state.
I also looked at other small jails around the state and saw the benefits of the private inmate health care systems being used. I knew then, I was obligated to show our local law enforcement committee and county board how we could save money in the long run while providing more consistent health care and covering the county’s new found liability. It was a difficult duty in one regard. For many years now, I have been so thankful for our local nurses, doctors and pharmacies who have always provided great service to us, some of which was totally volunteer on their part. They had always done their best to provide a level of care that was mandated at that time and they had served our jail inmates to the best of their ability. I felt bad knowing that privatizing these services would likely end our close relationship. Despite this feeling of remorse, I knew I had a duty to proceed in the best interest of the county’s citizens.
I presented the inmate health care options and new state mandates to the county’s Law Enforcement and Judiciary Committee and then the full Richland County Board of Supervisors. The state jail inspector spoke to both boards with his take on the situation. After examining the issues, the county board of supervisors saw what I had come to realize we had to make a change. ACH, Advanced Correctional Healthcare, the largest provider of inmate services for county jails in the United States was chosen as the new provider of inmate health care in the Richland County Jail.
ACH reports that they service 240 jails in 17 states including many in Wisconsin. They say they are able to provide more jail doctor and jail nurse hours at a jail facility at a far lower cost as well as providing 24/7 jail doctor consultations to the jail staff. They say they are able to provide medications at discount prices which is included in their fees and they are heavily insured and provide their own liability insurance.
We currently have a one year contract with ACH to see how things work out. The program is off to a good start, I can see that the nurses and doctor are very detailed and caring. Our jail staff has been trained to the new health care system and the ACH nurses and doctor have been meeting with inmates to evaluate them and begin their program.
A few inmates are not too happy about a reduction/change in their medications and/or diagnosis, however ACH assures me that they are being entirely appropriate and all inmates are receiving a comprehensive health care evaluation and a plan is being established for their care. My belief is that this program will be successful.