Hospital closure: Inmates’ medical care costs more

ALEXANDRIA (AP) — Rapides Parish Sheriff William Earl Hilton says medical costs for jail inmates have skyrocketed since Pineville’s charity hospital was closed.
Huey P. Long Medical Center rarely charged for inmates’ care until a year ago, as the state was preparing to shut it and move indigent care to two private Alexandria hospitals, Hilton’s chief administrative officer, Debbie McBeth, said.
The Sheriff’s Office is now considering whether to hire or contract with a doctor and nurses to care for inmates at the jail, she said.
“We’re hoping we can do more in-house and only have to go out for things that require hospitalization or more in-depth testing,” McBeth said.
That could send costs even higher, Hilton said: “It would more or less put us in the clinic business or in the hospital business or doctor’s office business to care for these inmates. It could easily be a million-dollar cost.”
McBeth said the sheriff’s office has racked up about $135,000 in medical bills since July 1, 2013. About $78,000 of that was in the year before Huey P. Long closed on June 30, McBeth said.
Another problem is that Christus St. Frances Cabrini Hospital and Rapides Regional Medical Center, which have the state contract for indigent care, want non-emergency care given at clinics — but the clinics are not set up to handle prisoners.
Hilton said he had been led to believe that services offered at Huey P. Long would be available for prisoners locally.
“With what services Huey P. Long was providing to us, if those exact services would have been moved to these other two hospitals, this would not be a problem,” he said.
McBeth said the Sheriff’s Office has always contracted with the coroner’s office for medics to offer some basic care and do triage at the jails on weekdays. Inmates with ailments beyond the medics’ ability to care for were scorted to Huey P. Long, she said. The hospital was “our doctor’s office, our clinic, our hospital, our surgery center,” she said. “They were everything.”
Maj. Doug Hollingsworth, head of the corrections division, said a deputy must escort each inmate.
Huey P. Long had a holding area for prisoners awaiting treatment. At the two Alexandria hospitals, “they’re in the waiting room like everyone else,” Hollingsworth said.
Officials said they are trying to work out details — such as available hours and how to keep inmates away from other patients — for using the new clinics set up by Rapides Regional and Cabrini.
Hilton said he wants to keep prisoners separate from the public when possible, and has been talking with Cabrini officials about creating an inmate treatment area at a clinic.
“Most of our inmates are not violent, but we do have some that are very, very violent,” the sheriff said.

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