Chesterton Tribune



County's long search for medical staff at jail frustrates sheriff

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Sheriff David Lain is growing anxious as Porter County officials continue to evaluate companies to provide health care personnel at the county jail.

Lain asked the County Council to transfer $39,000 in unused salaries on Tuesday to hire a temporary crew of part-time nurses while a committee made up of various county officials and the County Board of Commissioners make a decision.

Part of the money would be used for the increase in hourly pay rate of the jail’s licensed nurse practitioner from about $15 an hour to $18 an hour.

The Council unanimously approved the amount 5-0 which Lain said would carry his department through at least five more weeks.

After a number of resignations the past few months, Lain said the jail is currently down to just three nurses on staff currently, who are “stressed out to the max.”

“We are looking to what we can do to aid our beleaguered medical team,” he said. “We’ve got terrific people. I don’t know how they do it, to be honest.”

Nearly a year has passed since Lain sent out a letter telling about overcrowding of inmates and the lack of adequate medical staffing that together would be, in his words, the biggest liability concern facing the County.

The National Institute of Corrections performed a study of the jail at no cost to the County last summer and completed a report insisting that more staff be hired.

In October, Lain went to the Commissioners to ask that a Request for Proposals be put out to hire up to a dozen or nurses as well as a few mental health professionals and administrative support.

Then last month as Lain was prepared to give his recommendation for a provider, the Commissioners requested that Umbaugh and Associates complete an audit of the County Jail Funds as costs could surge over $1 million.

Since then, Lain said he has heard of no subsequent action other than a committee made up of various officials will meet Wednesday to review the proposals that came in. No one from Umbaugh has contacted him in regards to the audit, he said.

“We don’t have any of this project finished,” said Lain, who added that he already had a firm in mind. “We’ve made our decision. I’m frustrated. I don’t know why it has taken so long.”

Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center, seated in the audience said the five proposals that came in are being studied because they did not contain all the information asked for in the RFP. The estimated costs, Adams said, varied greatly, ranging from about $700,000 to $1.8 million. Each is being combed through to determine the amount of staffing they would require.

“There are a lot of things to look over because it’s a lot of money,” Adams said.

Committee members include Adams, Council President Robert Poparad, D-At Large, Council member Sylvia Graham, D-At Large, who is a retired nurse practitioner, Nursing Director of the County Health Department Connie Rudd, the Council’s new budget specialist Vicki Urbanik, and a few representatives from the Sheriff’s Department. The group is being led by County Attorney Betty Knight.

Adams said she expects the committee to wrap up its work in “two to three weeks” or sooner.

“We are moving forward, trying to get this done,” said Adams.

Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, scolded the Commissioners for what he sees as a “lack of urgency” and said these conversations should have transpired months ago. He also chided his peers for not asking him to be on the committee since he is the jail’s Council liaison and holds a Master’s Degree in Public Safety Administration.

Biggs emphasized that the County must fulfill the nursing requirements before it meets a situation like in Lake County where a lawsuit forced the U.S. Department of Justice to issue a federal mandate to improve jail conditions.

“It is clear in that regard that we have no choice,” he said.

County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, who was not at the meeting, told the Tribune this morning he ordered the audit to get a better understanding of the plethora of funds associated with the Sheriff’s Department so that the large costs of providing medical services may not have to be paid in full out of the County’s general fund on a yearly basis.

He said he has heard the call that the Sheriff wants an immediate decision on a medical staffing provider, but the Commissioners feel it is important to weigh their options thoroughly, which is why they formed the committee with persons of different expertise.

“Everything has to be explored,” Evans said. Not doing so, he said, could be “reckless.”

“We need to address this like adults,” he said.

Like Adams, Evans said he expects the Commissioners to have their choice of a provider ready in a matter of weeks.

This dilemma is not exclusive to Porter County. Jail medical staffing problems are occurring “all across the state,” Evans said.





Posted 4/24/2013