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Provider cuts costs for jail care

COVINGTON -- The provider of health care services at the Newton County Detention Center is voluntarily reducing costs by more than $100,000 to assist the county in its budget crisis.

Commissioners approved Tuesday night a new contract with NaphCare Inc. reflecting a reduction in cost of $104,275.76. The total contract cost is $1,554,428.44, down from $1,658,704.20.

NaphCare reduced the cost of living increase charge, proposed staffing changes and provided a full risk contract with no bill back costs to accomplish the savings.

"We want to thank NaphCare for coming to our aid. This is a matter of survival for the Sheriff's Office," said Sheriff Ezell Brown, adding that several vendors have agreed to cut costs to help with the budget crunch. The NCSO's budget was cut by 5 percent on both the law enforcement and detention center sides for fiscal year 2011.

"That's going above and beyond what a vendor should do. I'm very impressed with what they have offered," said Commissioner Earnest Simmons.

Commissioner Nancy Schulz questioned why so many medical personnel are needed in the jail. NaphCare has two nurses, a nurse practitioner and an administrator on duty during the day and two nurses on duty at night. A medical doctor, dentist and psychiatrist also make routine visits.

Capt. Sammy Banks, detention center administrator, said there are 628 inmates and the nurses are needed to staff the medical ward and to be out on the floor distributing medication. He said the nurses have plenty to do to cover their 12-hour shifts.

Schulz, who is a nurse practitioner with the Newton County Health Department, said often the level of service received by taxpayers at the health department is not as high as what inmates are receiving and encouraged the sheriff to make sure staffing levels maintained by NaphCare are needed.

County Attorney Tommy Craig said the county must meet federal standards for providing inmate health care and noted that NaphCare has received high marks from the past two sheriffs for its standard of care. Prior to contracting with NaphCare, there were severe liability issues in the jail related to health care services, he said.

Brown invited commissioners to take a tour of the jail to see for themselves how operations are conducted.

"Sitting here will not give you a complete understanding," he said.

Chairman Kathy Morgan said she and Administrative Officer John Middleton recently completed a tour that was "eye-opening" and said she hopes commissioners will do the same.

The detention center was the most affected by cuts to the budget, with 12 employees laid off. Capt. Banks recently told the Citizen a staff of 24 per shift is needed to run the jail. Currently, it is being operated with 14 to 15 per shift. Inmates are sleeping on the floor with the jail at nearly 100 above capacity.