With expenses of more than half a million dollars a year, Portage County commissioners are trying to find ways to put the brakes on medical costs for inmates of the Portage County Jail.
Commissioners met with Sheriff Duane Kaley and representatives of Robinson Memorial Hospital's Working Partners, which provides medical care to inmates, and the Chandler Group of Companies. The Chandler Group is the county's third-party health care administrator for its self-insured employee health plan.
Commissioners say medical care for inmates are increasing and the county does not have the same insurance backstop to control costs.
"Whether it's who approves a pair of eyeglasses or dentures, individually it's never a lot of money. But at the end of the year, it's the single largest uncontrollable cost of operating our jail," Commissioner Chuck Keiper said of inmate medical costs.
The county is negotiating with Western Reserve Benefits Administrators, a subsidiary of the Chandler Group of Companies, to review records of inmate medical care since the jail opened three years ago.
According to the Portage County Auditor's office, the county spent $547,916 last year on inmate medical expenses. The county was contracted to pay a base amount of $30,000 a month to Working Partners to have 24-hour-a-day medical coverage of the jail. Each person booked into the jail goes through a medical pre-screening.
That contract expired Feb. 1. and commissioners decided to continue on a month-to-month basis although no contract or agreement had been signed as of Thursday.
Commissioner Kathleen Chandler said a comparison of last year's jail census with medical costs indicated the county was spending $90 to $120 per day per inmate.
Commissioners stressed they were not dissatisfied with the quality of care or the services provided by Working Partners or Robinson Memorial Hospital, which is a county facility.
All inmate medical costs are paid from the county general fund. Inmate medical needs become the responsibility of the county when a person is booked into the jail. A catastrophic illness or major medical need, such as a heart attack, could cost the county thousands of dollars a week.
Commissioners want to cover such potential costs with a re-insurance policy, but must first review the jail's medical costs and treatments to determine potential risk levels. That review of medical records at the jail is expected to take about a month. Results of the review will be used to determine the actuarial risk the county has for medical costs, and be used to insure the county against that risk.
Commissioners also want to limit what medical treatment is provided through the jail to essentials only.
"It is our intention to provide only what the law requires us to provide _ no more, no less," Keiper said.
Sheriff Duane Kaley said he and his staff would cooperate in getting the necessary information.
"If it will save some county funds, I think that's OK," he said. Kaley noted that all medical decisions are made by medical staff, not corrections personnel.