Government and Health Care

County sheriff cuts inmate medical costs

Department begins year with new provider agreement.

January 3, 2014
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The Kent County Sheriff’s Department has begun the New Year with a new contract to provide medical care for inmates at the correctional facility and for detainees at the juvenile detention center.

The new agreement for comprehensive health care services is expected to shave $300,000 worth of cost annually for the department from a tab that has exceeded $5 million each year since at least 2006.

To put that expense in perspective, it is nearly twice the cost the Sheriff’s Department will spend this year on patrolling the county’s 21 townships, which is $2.8 million.

The contract is with Corizon Health Inc., a provider of inmate medical services for 410,000 inmates at 500 facilities in 29 states. The company is based in Brentwood, Tenn., but maintains its operational headquarters in St. Louis.

Corizon Health also provides a similar service for departments in Saginaw, Genesee and Calhoun counties.

Although the contract is new, the company is not. The Sheriff’s Department was already familiar with Corizon Health. In 2005, the county entered into a service agreement with the provider when it was known as Prison Health Services, or PHS Correctional Healthcare. The contract was extended several times, and the latest version expired Dec. 31.

In 2011, PHS merged with Correctional Medical Services to form Corizon Health, a privately held company. The county’s purchasing department issued an RFP for the service last year and received bids from nine firms, with Corizon Health’s being seen as the most affordable and comprehensive.

Physician, psychiatric and nursing visits are part of the agreement, as is dental care. X-rays, blood draws, dialysis, mental health, tuberculosis testing, pharmacy and hospitalization also are services provided through the contract.

The service is seen as necessary because Medicaid coverage normally stops when an individual is incarcerated, as the state excludes inmates from its program. Some private insurance policies also stop coverage when a person is arrested. Because the arresting municipalities aren’t responsible for the state correctional system, the counties receive the inmates’ medical bills.

According to Sheriff’s Department data, 7,769 inmates were seen by a physician in 2012, while 4,543 were seen by a psychiatrist. Nurses saw inmates 40,195 times that year. There also were 1,552 visits to the dentist and 1,409 X-rays taken. Lab work was done for 1,992 inmates, and 6,699 inmates were on medication each week.

The Sheriff’s Department had 25,571 inmates brought to the correctional facility in 2012, with 43 percent of those having been arrested by the Grand Rapids Police Department.

The Sheriff’s Department collected almost $1.3 million that year from nine arresting agencies for housing the inmates, with $640,000 of that total coming from Grand Rapids.

The housing amount gave the Sheriff’s Department an average daily incarceration rate of $37.48 per inmate in 2012, or about half of what it costs the county agency to house an inmate on a daily basis.

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