Jail’s healthcare provider threatens pull out

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FARMINGTON – The Franklin County commissioners spent most of their meeting this morning discussing the local jail, as the health care provider for that facility has threatened to pull out of their contract.

The jail’s basic health care services for inmates is provided through Allied Resources for Correctional Health, Inc., an Augusta-based company 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.

However, in a letter addressed to the commissioners on July 31, ARCH stated its intent to “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. “And our company cannot continue on with the situation as described in our letter to Sheriff Pike dated May 14, 2008.”

The exact contents of that letter are not fully known. Jail Administrator Sandra Collins did say that her discussions with ARCH seemed to indicate that the company had been losing money every month since 2006 while providing services in Franklin County. This was corroborated by Sheriff Dennis Pike, who was told in a June meeting with ARCH that the company had lost $600 a month covering Franklin County jail for at least a year. Pike also thought 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.

“It was indicated to me that they had anticipated the mental health contract,” Pike said, “which, with the current contact, would have made the operation economical.”

In that case, ARCH actually put forward the lowest bid. However, jail personnel and the county commissioners found that the bids did not address some of the needs spelled out in the specifications of the contract so a new round of bids were requested. In this second round, Evergreen’s bid was lower than ARCH, costing that company the contract.

There were other concerns as well. A federal Department of Justice Immigration and Customs Enforcement team conducted an inspection in June 2008, finding several problems with the health service being provided by ARCH. The changes requested in the I.C.E. team’s report typically centered around more oversight and evaluation from the company, which has required additional resources to fix.

“We all know,” Collins said, “that the longer you do something a certain way, the more difficult it is to change.”

Collins also said that some of her corrections officers had been asked by ARCH representatives to assist in medical activity. Despite some officers having experience as EMT’s or nurses, Collins said that the officers are not able to provide health care service. In turn, ARCH has accused Collins and her officers of “interfering with medical decisions.”

The commissioners have requested additional information from ARCH while considering what options are available to the county. The contract does contain an opt out clause. Pike and Collins also indicated that, unlike previous years, another company may be interested in bidding on the medical service contract, possibly giving the jail another option.

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