Pubdate: Wed, 22 Jun 2005
Source: Daily Mountain Eagle (Jasper, AL)
Copyright: 2005 Daily Mountain Eagle
Author: Ed Howel


Walker County Jail administrator Trent McCluskey said it is true that 
medical costs are rising and much of that problem goes back to the 
drug addictions that are overtaking prisoners and forcing them into crime.

McCluskey called on state legislators to find some type of relief, as 
he said all counties were feeling the effects of rising medical costs 
for prisoners.

"We need them to address this," he said.

At the end of the 2004 fiscal year, members of the Walker County 
Commission had expressed major concerns about medical costs at the 
jail, where $400,000 had been spent just in the first nine months of 
calendar year 2004 and huge overruns were posted due to mounting medical bills.

"Everyone is concerned about our costs," Commission Chairman Bruce 
Hamrick said at Monday's commission meeting.

McCluskey said Gold Medical Services has been the medical provider 
for the county jail over the past five years. That firm is providing 
a nurse two times a day and a doctor two times per week, plus a nurse 
during emergencies.

"Gold Medical Service does an outstanding job here," McCluskey said, 
noting they have kept notes, made medical calls and been available to 
come to court when needed.

He said his knowledge about Southern Health Partners is very limited, 
and he only answered a couple of questions from Wes Williamson, vice 
president for sales of Southern Health Partners, when they spoke on 
the phone Friday. However, he knew of Williamson from his days 
running the Etowah County jail, saying he was a "quality person."

In the end, he said it is the county commission that negotiates and 
contracts to gets medical services for county prisoners. He did not 
know how Southern Health Partners differs from Gold Medical Service's 
current contract terms.

As of Tuesday, the jail population which would come under county 
medical services numbered 226, McCluskey said. He guessed last year 
the total cost to the county for medical services for prisoners 
probably amounted to $500,000. While the county had already spent 
$400,000 by September last year, this calendar year the county has 
already passed that mark, he said.

Other prisoners that are under work release or state custody would 
not qualify but are in addition to the 226 that do, he said, adding 
the number of people to care for always seems to be growing.

While sentencing alternatives exist, there are some cases, such as 
those who have not gone to trial yet, where the county can only do so 
much. He said there was one felony defendant who once had to go to 
jail for gall bladder surgery - and then tried to escape from the 
hospital, for which she was convicted for even before her original crime.

McCluskey said in many cases those who are coming to jail have not 
taken great care of themselves, and in many cases are substance 
abusers or people with other illnesses.

Once in the prison population, many prisoners became desperate to 
have some type of medication to satisfy their longing for drugs.

"Substance abusers will break a bone intentionally to get a 
substance," he said. "Substance abuse is a big problem that's 
affecting what you deal with here."

McCluskey said he knows of a couple of cases where other prisoners 
have even helped in jumping or stepping on someone's arm or leg to 
break the bone.
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