DECATUR — Macon County Jail medical services will soon be taken over by Decatur’s Crossing Healthcare, part of a sweeping effort partly funded by Sheriff Howard Buffett to improve inmate care and operations at the jail.
The change ends a multiyear partnership between the Macon County Sheriff’s Office and Decatur Memorial Hospital, which was not one of the two bidders for the medical contract.
Under the terms of the one-year deal, Crossing will provide medical services at a cost of $635,564 starting May 1, with a mutual option to extend the agreement an additional year.
“It could not be better for us and the inmates here,” said sheriff's Lt. Kristopher Thompson, the jail superintendent.
Crossing Healthcare’s CEO Tanya Andricks did not return a message seeking comment.
The agreement, set to be discussed at today's (Thursday's) meeting of the county’s justice committee, comes several months after consultants hired by Buffett completed studies that showed the jail’s medical services were inadequate in a number of areas and that technology upgrades were needed.
Conditions at the jail are also at the root of two federal lawsuits that have been filed against the jail by families of inmates who died while in custody. Buffett has previously denied that bringing in consultants was related to the lawsuits.
Buffett will cover the cost of the technology upgrades through his private foundation, while the county will be required to pick up the additional costs of healthcare. The county previously paid $303,608 a year for medical services.
With the existing one-year contract for medical services between the county and Decatur Memorial Hospital set to expire at the end of April, Thompson said plans were already in place before the consultant reports to accept bids for medical services. But he said the studies played a major part in what the office was looking for in a new contract.
Among the major changes in the agreement with Crossing is to offer at least 12 hours per week of onsite medical care provided by a physician or qualified medical practitioner under the supervision of a physician, 160 hours of onsite nursing per week and 3 hours of psychiatric services provided by a psychiatrist or qualified medical practitioner working under the supervision of a psychiatrist.
"This is a significant increase over what we’ve previously had,” Thompson said. “All of this was taken into account when we published the request for bids.”
Per the agreement, Crossing had offered full-time positions to all current nursing staff. Thompson said DMH and Crossing have worked well together to ensure a seamless transition.
Crossing Healthcare was one of two agencies to submit bids to provide medical services, with the other submitted by Peoria-based Advanced Correctional Healthcare.
DMH, which has provided medical services at the jail for several years, did not submit a bid. In an email, DMH spokeswoman Anne Davis said the decision to not submit a bid was due to changes at the state and federal level that have affected the health care business.
“... We have chosen to focus our attention on our core business, which is running a hospital,” she said.
Officials have spent nearly a year looking at the operations of the jail and what changes could be made. With 73 officers working three shifts and an average of 330 inmates at any given time, Buffett has previously said it remains the highest liability that his office oversees.
Buffett’s foundation paid $236,000 to bring in specialists to analyze operations at the jail, which is on the second floor of the Macon County Law Enforcement Center in downtown Decatur. In February, the foundation provided $1.3 million to upgrade the jail, including software and software licenses; more than $100,000 for a new prisoner transport vehicle; and $122,000 for a correctional officer position that would implement a new jail classification system.
The agreement will go before the justice committee at its 3 p.m. meeting today (Thursday) when it is expected to be approved before heading to the full county board at its May 10 meeting. The new agreement increases the annual cost of jail medical care by 109 percent, and there will likely be questions about what will be included, said Jay Dunn, chairman of the county board and its finance committee.
However, Dunn said the consultant studies and the amount of liability that comes with the jail make the $331,956 increase in medical costs a necessity.
“It’s the right thing to do, it’s what we have to do,” he said.