Health care provider hired for jail inmates

Friday, July 3, 2009

Marshall County's Law Enforcement Committee has voted to rehire the company providing health care services for jail inmates.

The new contract costs $119,000 annually for 90 inmates, plus a $20,000 fund to be available to deal with additional costs, Commissioner Scottie Poarch said.

"This is a decrease," said Poarch, chairman of the Law Enforcement Committee. "I believe it's about a $20,000 annual savings," he said from memory when contrasting the new price to what's been paid.

Southern Health Partners of Chattanooga was selected by the committee during its June 29 meeting with the company's representative, Brent Deweese, at the Sheriff's Office.

"I hate to see you spend money unnecessarily," Deweese told the committee.

A wide variety of options were presented on June 19 to the committee by Southern Health Partners and two other vendors: Advanced Correctional Healthcare with offices in Peoria, Ill.; and Detention Health Care Associates of Maryville, Tenn.

The contract to provide health care for jail inmates became a topic of increased public discussion last month as the county's Budget Committee moved toward a new configuration of employee health insurance coverage with a deductible increase of $2,000, up from $500 annually.

Nevertheless, inmate health care vendors advised commissioners that their service fulfills a constitutional requirement for correctional facilities to avoid complaints that incarceration is cruel and unusual punishment. Inmate complaints filed by free attorneys' services have resulted in court orders regarding county jails in south central Tennessee in recent decades.

Still, the idea of providing free medication and related health services is not well received as county employees, commissioners and their constituents struggle with a weakened economy and a bleak job market.

Prescriptions provided some inmates in the care of Southern Health Partners include psychotropic drugs to treat anxiety suffered by inmates, according to Deweese, who said such treatment could cost $1,800 per month for one inmate.

Faced with the constitutional requirement and one bid seen as unreliable, Commissioner E.W. Hill seconded Commissioner Billy Spivey's motion to rehire Southern Health Partners. The vote was unanimous.