Inmate healthcare will protect taxpayers

A new comprehensive healthcare plan for those incarcerated at the Billy Magee Law Enforcement Complex in Forrest County will help protect the county’s taxpayers twofold. The new program will shield taxpayers from any potential liability as well as the rising costs of healthcare. It would also indemnify Forrest General Hospital, which has been overseeing healthcare for the facility.

Members of the Forrest County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 during its meeting Monday to hire Southern Health Partners (SHP), based in Chattanooga, Tenn., to oversee the healthcare for those inmates at the facility. District 5 Supervisor Chris Bowen cast the dissenting vote, wanting to talk with other entities in the state and others who currently use SHP for their services before making a decision.

The $1.176 million contract is a slight reduction than what the county has been paying for care, which has been spread out across three entities – “Forrest General Healthcare, a private doctor and a pharmaceutical company with the drug portion.”

The new contract would streamline all services – medical, mental health, dental and pharmaceutical – under one umbrella.

SHP, which was formed during the early ’90s, currently provides such services to inmates in more than 200 correctional facilities in 13 different states, mostly in the southeastern region. The group also has associations with both the Mississippi Association of Supervisors and Mississippi Sheriff's Association.

Quality Correctional Health Care also submitted an RFP, but came in a bit higher at $1.3 million.

Doug Jones, chief financial officer for FGH, has been working for some time to put such a proposal together for the board. Hogan said an RFP (request for proposal) was put out for medical services at the jail facility “in an effort by everybody involved to see if we couldn’t get some cost reduction and the possibility of some consolidation of services.”

The contract price was based on a daily occupancy of 300 inmates. As of Monday of this week, there were 302. In the event the inmate population goes above the allotted number, there will be an additional $1.25 charge per inmate. Based on an average of 325 inmates for a year, the additional cost to the county would only be about $11,000.

“We feel that is a reasonable amount, in the board’s opinion,” said Hogan. “With a second circuit judge, we are hopeful we’ll see a reduction in those numbers.

“After hearing the ins and outs of both companies,the  sheriff agreed with Mr. Jones’ recommendation and the board voted to move forward with hiring the low quote to take effect July 1.”

Hogan said he was hopeful the citizens of Forrest County will begin to see a reduction in the healthcare costs at the jail.

“As things have changed with liability concerns and healthcare costs over the years, it has become a much more expensive endeavor than it was back then Another concern is that physicians who come into the facility to provide healthcare are often susceptible to inmate lawsuits, which is a common thing. A lot of these guys are locked up and looking for reasons to file suits, so sometimes you might see what is referred to as ‘defensive medicine,’ where doctor will send out a normally minor complaint to a specialist. It’s a little disheartening, sitting in my position, to see inmates sometimes getting procedures that we as the general public can’t even afford to have. This is a company that is well-established, this is what they concentrate on, so hopefully they are going to be able to curtail some of those costs we’ve been seeing in that regard.”

The one-year contract, with a two-year option to continue, could see an increase of no more than four percent in a second year. “We’ll see how the first year goes, while hopefully seeing some cost savings, and sufficient inmate care, and I would assume the board would see fit to renew it. It’s up to a three-year contract, but we’re only bound by one year at a time.”