Commissioners sign jail medical contract, sheriff vows to deny access

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FARMINGTON – Commissioners reluctantly approved a four-month medical service contract for the Franklin County Jail today, against the advice of both the jail administrator and sheriff.

After the commissioners approved the motion, Sheriff Dennis Pike said that he would deny the service provider, Allied Resources for Correctional Health Inc., access to the jail. He cited “moral and ethical concerns” as the primary reason for denying access.

“ARCH will not be welcome at the Franklin County Jail again,” Pike told commissioners.

The contract in question would be for ARCH, which provides services to correctional facilities throughout the state and previously provided services for the jail, estimated specific medical services for four months at a cost of $16,100. ARCH’s bid was the lowest that the county received.

The four-month timetable is due to the large number of unknowns in the jail’s future. The state’s Board of Corrections has a subcommittee looking into the fate of the Franklin County Jail, as part of the governor’s cost saving efforts with the Department of Corrections. While the governor’s plan originally called for Franklin County Jail to be closed, the subcommittee is now looking at different options, including turning it into a 72-hour holding facility.

A 72-hour holding facility would not require a medical services contract.

Commissioners are trying to put together their own plan for the facility. On July 1 the state will begin a new, two-year fiscal period. After that point the budget for the jail will be locked and any future savings, such as those generated through going to a 72-hour holding facility, will be shared throughout the DOC system. Commissioners would prefer to generate their own plan and put it into place before July 1, allowing savings the plan creates to stay in-county. Any such plan would require the approval of the state, which has the final say on such matters.

“We’re trying to get ahead of the curve now,” McGrane said. “We can see the handwriting on the wall.”

With this in mind, Commissioner Gary McGrane, of Jay, moved to sign a contract with ARCH. Commissioner Fred Hardy of New Sharon, seconded the motion.

The county has a long working relationship with ARCH, which ended abruptly last year when the company exercised an opt-out clause in the three-year contract it had with Franklin County. On July 30, 2008, ARCH notified commissioners that it intended to stop work effective August 31. This touched off a series of accusations between the company and county, with the latter claiming that ARCH was not fulfilling the terms of their contract and was holding out for more money and the former claiming that the jail staff was not providing the level of cooperation necessary to provide medical services to inmates. 

After ARCH left, the Franklin County Health Network and eventually Wilson Stream Family Practice stepped in to provide services. Wilson Stream continues to provide medical services today, without a contract. Jail Administrator Sandra Collins indicated that she would prefer to see that relationship continue than sign a contract with ARCH.

“I really would like to stay with the services we have now,” Collins said, “because everything is so up in the air.”

“The chances of us remaining as we are are slim,” she went on to say, noting that her conversations with representatives of the Board of Corrections indicated to her that the jail may well become a 72-hour holding facility.

McGrane said that every other possibility, except for ARCH, would put the jail above the $17,000 amount that the state lets the county spend on medical services.

“The only way to guarantee a four-month budget is to go with ARCH,” McGrane said.

Collins and Pike, in turn, argued that the $16,100 contract did not cover every medical emergency, and that several factors, including inmate population increases, could cost more money. Both also said they disagreed with the decision to utilize ARCH, with Collins saying that she would not work with the company.

“Certainly ARCH’s track record isn’t very good in Franklin County,” Hardy said. “We’ve been down that road.”

However, the commissioner went on to say, he didn’t see any way of getting around the fact that ARCH had the lowest bid on the table. He seconded the motion and later approved it.

“You’ve made your decision,” Collins told the commissioners, “now I’ll have to make mine.” 

Pike told the commissioners that he would bar access to the jail for ARCH personnel. He cited concerns with the company’s past service in the facility as his primary reason.

ARCH would also need to approve the contract for it to be valid. If ARCH did sign the contract with the county it would theoretically begin providing services on March 1. The amount of control the sheriff and/or commissioners have over access to the jail remains unclear.

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