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Without a contract: jail’s medical service set to expire

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FARMINGTON – The Franklin County Jail’s medical service contract is set to expire, and the county commissioners gathered this morning to open the bids for the next contract. There was just one problem.

There wasn’t any.

No companies have expressed interest in bidding on the contract, which is to provide basic health care for the inmates at the jail. Mental health services are provided through a different agency, Evergreen Mental Health. The state and federal government have a variety of requirements, such as a weekly visit to the facility by a doctor, nurses to dispense medication and evaluate patients, a staffed and fully-equipped medical center and other services.

The jail’s basic health care services for inmates is provided through Allied Resources for Correctional Health, Inc., which has contracts with correctional facilities across the state. ARCH has provided services to Franklin County jail for years, recently renewing their contract with the county in 2006. That contract was set to expire on Dec. 31 of this year.

This changed on July 30 however, when in a letter addressed to the commissioners, ARCH notified them that their intent was “stop work effective Aug. 31, 2008.”

“The current economic climate has compelled ARCH to re-examine its relationship with Franklin County,” said ARCH representative Douglas Jennings in a letter to commissioners.

Sheriff Dennis Pike was told in a June meeting with ARCH that the company had lost $600 a month covering Franklin County jail for 18 months. Pike has also noted that losing the mental health service contract, which is bid out separately from the medical service portion, to Evergreen Mental Health perhaps hurt ARCH’s profit margin.

Additionally, an inspection by a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement team in June found a series of problems with the care being given to the inmates by ARCH. These included incomplete and poorly organized files, the lack of oversight and inadequate staffing. While the majority of these problems were corrected, the fixes cost the company.

ARCH had originally said they wanted to leave at the end of July, attempting to cease their work on August 31. Jail Administrator Sandra Collins noted, however, that the contract required 60 days of notice, forcing ARCH to stay on until the end of September. It had been hoped that other health care providers would be found before October. Commissioners ordered the contract put out to bid on August 19, having been told that two companies had previously expressed interest.

However, no bids were submitted.

Franklin Memorial Hospital’s representative David Robie, who serves as the director of the NorthStar ambulance program, was on hand at the meeting. FMH believes, Robie said, that helping the inmates at the jail was part of its mission of providing health care to the region. While the hospital is interested in assisting the jail, and “is not interested in making a profit,” the problem is one of providing personnel and equipment.

“The issue is one of resources,” Robie told the commissioners, “if we go into this we want to make sure we do it right.”

As an example, Robie noted that the hospital and jail had expressed interest in a doctor visiting more than once a week. This could improve the detection of serious problems before they fully develop, reducing the cost of emergency transport and treatment at the hospital.

“I’m guardedly optimistic,” Pike said, “after having these conversations with Mr. Robie and [FMH President Richard Batt]. I do think they want to help.”

Robie noted that freeing up physicians and nurse practitioners to work at the jail could be difficult. FMH will continue working on the problem, looking for ways to get the right people down to the jail, but Robie warned against expecting a short-term solution.

“I encourage you to look at a plan B,” he advised.

“My concern is the lapse of time between the end of ARCH’s contract and the next group,” Commissioner Fred Hardy agreed.

Meanwhile, ARCH has told Collins that the jail does have the option, as written into the contract, to continue to utilize their services for an additional 8 percent a month. The contract entered into with ARCH back in 2006 cost the county $26,500 in the first year, increasing by $750 in each of the two proceeding years.

Commissioners agreed to contact ARCH and ask them to continue service through October, at the increased price.

Hardy blamed the “one-size-fits-all” government regulation of jail health care for the increasing costs, and lack of bids.

“It’s another situation of regulations costing the taxpayer,” he said.

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