County looks at new approach to managing inmate health care
A newly formed company based in Valdosta is soliciting Grady County Sheriff Harry Young and the board of commissioners to contract with the firm to handle inmate health care at the Grady County Detention Center.
Richard Raines, who serves on the Lowndes County Board of Commissioners and is a principal with Innovative Health Care Solutions of Georgia, LLC, appeared before commissioners last Tuesday morning.
Although the company was formed only four months ago, Raines pointed out he had worked for another firm that provided similar services. Also involved in the company are a former sheriff and a physician.
“We have a combined 62 years of experience in inmate health care,” Raines said.
According to Raines, 20 years ago it was common for inmates to file lawsuits claiming insanity or police brutality in an attempt to be released from jail. Today, he said, inmates file claims for a lack of access to proper medical care.
“Our job is to partner with the sheriff and provide a complete medical service program,” Raines said.
Under the services Innovative Healthcare provides, much of the medical care for inmates is conducted at the jail and thus reduces transportation costs and unnecessary emergency room visits.
Raines told commissioners the biggest opportunity to cut costs for inmate health care is to reduce emergency room visits. In order to achieve that goal, Innovative Healthcare Solutions will have a nurse at the jail either seven days a week or five days a week from 8 a.m. until noon. On-call nurses would also be available on demand.
According to Raines, the number one complaint from inmates is chest pain and, typically, these complaints come at night. “Right now, the only thing you can do is transport them to the emergency room. Most times it turns out to be noncardiac or nonemergency issues. The cost of a single trip can run about $3,100,” he said.
With Innovate Healthcare, an EKG machine will be installed at the jail and tests can be transmitted in real time to a physician who reads it in real time.
The second most common issue with inmate health care is injury. Under the program being offered, all medical treatment for minor injuries would be done at the jail.
“No one goes to the emergency room unless we direct the detention center staff to transport them or call the ambulance,” Raines said.
In addition, Innovative Healthcare personnel will maintain and manage medical records of inmates which will help reduce the cost of insurance for the county.
Raines also promotes his company’s services as added protection from liability and litigation by inmates.
Grady County Sheriff Harry Young said he is sold on the company and would like to do business with the Valdosta-based firm.
“If you run a jail, you are going to have liability. Hiring these folks will not prevent us from being sued but, hopefully, it will prevent us from losing the lawsuit,” the sheriff said.
When asked how much the county is spending currently, Grady County Administrator Rusty Moye says the total varies “greatly” year-to-year, but it is easily $100 to $150,000 annually.
Moye asked how many other jails are managed by Innovative Healthcare. Raines said hopefully by the end of the week the company will be serving jails in Houston and Toombs counties.
“Does this appeal to you, Harry?” Commissioner T.D. David asked the sheriff.
“I want to do whatever it takes to keep inmates safe, but save the county money. We need more professional help to handle inmate healthcare. I’ve looked at what other companies offer and this far exceeds my expectations,” the sheriff said.
The county administrator was also asked for his opinion and, although Tuesday was the first he had heard of the proposal, he said any way to reduce transporting inmates to the hospital and doctors’ offices would be a plus and would reduce liability.
“We are already short of staff at the jail and when you have to transport an inmate to the hospital or the doctor that means you are short that much more in jail personnel,” Moye said.
Commissioner Al Ball asked how much the on-call services added to the annual cost, and Raines said that was included in the annual fee. Ball also asked if the on-call nurses would communicate with inmates directly to avoid any loss in translation.
“I would fire a nurse who would not talk with an inmate directly,” Raines said.
Raines also said it would be his desire to hire local nurses if at all possible. “We would hire two for this facility,” he said.
Commission Chairman Elwyn Childs asked that Moye review the proposal and make a recommendation to the board at its next meeting.
The cost for seven day per week, 8 a.m. – noon, service is $139,800 annually and for the five days a week, 8 a.m. – noon, is $129,804 annually.