Unicoi Co. hires medical group for inmates to save county money

Rice said it could take up to a year before the county sees if there are any cost-savings with the new company.

UNICOI COUNTY, TN (WJHL)- Unicoi County is trying to save taxpayer money by changing the way inmate healthcare is handled in Unicoi County jails.

Over the last three fiscal years, the department has spent more than $379,000 on inmate healthcare at the two jails in the county. In FY 2012-2013 around $109,000 was spent, compared to more than $153,000 in FY 2014-2015.

“Healthcare in a jail, it’s an unknown,” said Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley. “You cannot put a figure on it. We try to keep the cost at a minimum but we have to provide medical to the inmates.”

The sheriff’s department has been struggling with a dwindling budget and trying to make ends meet for the last couple years. Some employees were laid off in 2014 and Hensley recently spoke about his office desperately needing new vehicles.

“I know that the medical costs are astronomical,” said Sheriff Hensley. “I would not be doing my duty as sheriff and being accountable to the taxpayers if I did not look to save money everywhere we can.”

To help reduce costs, Hensley recently approached the Unicoi County commission about hiring an outside medical provider to take over inmate healthcare. Currently, the department has a nurse on-staff and a local doctor comes in to tend to medical needs of about 100 inmates at the main jail and the jail annex.

The commission formed a committee and spent about three months looking at different companies. Commissioner Marie Rice was part of the committee. “We were looking for savings to Unicoi County for the taxpayers to care for the inmates that they would have quality care,” Commissioner Rice said.

The county and sheriff’s department recently decided to enter into a contract with local company, Rural Health Services Consortium. “They will take care of [the entire] medical, if anyone has a problem that the nurse can’t take care of, they will provide all the medical care for the inmates,” Sheriff Hensley said.

Rural Health Services is set to begin work March 1. “We’re hoping that this will save the county some money,” the sheriff said. “It’s just a trial thing to see what happens. We’re willing to try it, hopefully save money.” Rice said it could take up to a year before the county sees if there are any cost-savings with the new company.

Copyright 2016 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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