View Full Version : Area jails coping with MDOC fee reductions

02-25-2005, 08:22 PM

Area sheriffs say they aren't feeling the pinch of rising medical costs as much as some others following cost-cutting moves by the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

The Legislature enacted a law last year that prevents MDOC from paying county jails that house state inmates any more for medical bills than what is covered for Medicaid recipients.

The measure has drawn the ire of several county governments, some of which have said they may have to raise local taxes to compensate for rising jail medical bills.

The medical bills of state inmates housed in county jails have traditionally been paid by the county jail with reimbursement from MDOC.

In June, Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps mailed sheriffs a letter announcing that MDOC would no longer reimburse more than the standard Medicaid rate for state inmate medical bills.

Despite the outcry of many sheriffs statewide, however, area sheriffs say they have not seen the skyrocketing medical expenses others are claiming. They also say it may be too early to know the measure's full impact.

"Everything is working fine with us," said Pike County Sheriff Mark Sheppard. "I don't think it's happened over a long enough time for us to analyze those figures."

Sheppard and Copiah County Jail Administrator Jim Harper said they are keeping inmate medical costs down through the use of full-time nurses at their jails.

Sheppard, who took office in January 2004, said Pike County has had a nurse on staff since before he won the election. The nurse checks on the inmates, provides medicine and determines when inmates need to receive more advanced care, eliminating hospital visits for minor illnesses or injuries.

The Copiah County Jail hired a full-time nurse around November, Harper said. He said the nurse was hired partly as a cost-cutting measure because of the MDOC announcement.

"We've really cut our medical expenses down since we've done that," he said. "We're already noticing the savings. It's been a big savings for us."

The nurse determines when an inmate needs to visit the hospital now, Harper said. Previously, a jailer had to make that decision.

"It makes a difference when the decision-maker has a medical background," he said.

Jailers previously were be concerned about the potential of lawsuits when denying inmates advanced medical care, Harper said. A nurse has a better background to make those determinations based on professional knowledge, he said.

Lawrence County Sheriff Joel Thames said he has not noticed a large increase in medical expenses at the jail but is nevertheless looking for ways to cut costs.

"I've been exploring the idea of getting a nurse practitioner to come in once a week for a sick call," he said.

Thames said the local hospital has been very cooperative in helping the jail keep medical costs down.

"The hospital does give us a discount on our emergency room visits. That helps some," he said.

Sheppard and Harper also said their local hospitals had demonstrated a willingness to work with the jails on keeping the medical expense budget down.