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Jail Committee Recommends McDowell Health Bid To Provide Medical Services At Boyle County Detention Center

Robert Moore
Herald Staff

Editor’s Note: The headline and first paragraph have been edited to more accurately reflect the actions taken at the joint jail committee.

The Mercer County-Boyle County Joint Jail Committee has chosen to recommend Ephraim McDowell Health’s bid to provide medical services at the Boyle County Detention Center. The bid must be approved by the Boyle and Mercer County fiscal courts.

At last week’s meeting at the Boyle County Court House, the committee awarded the medical contract to McDowell, which operates three hospitals—including Ephraim McDowell James B. Haggin Hospital in Harrodsburg—serving more than 119,000 people from six counties in central Kentucky.

The total estimated of McDowell’s bid is $555,773, of which $457,273 would go to labor, with $38,500 estimated for pharmacy costs.

The joint jail committee has been reviewing bids for medical services for a while, At last month’s meeting, they spoke with a representative from Southern Health Partners, which has been providing medical services at the regional jail for years. Jail officials have grown increasingly unhappy over the number of missed shifts. Under the terms of their agreement with the joint jail committee, Southern Health Partners does not have to refund any money until shifts have been missed for five consecutive days.

At last month’s meeting, the company said their goal is to provide coverage and to make up any hours missed. Wes Williams of Southern Health Partners said they were fully staffed at that moment, including an agency nurse who cost more than the contractual amount.

“I agree there have been some skinned knees along the way as far as staffing,” Williams said.

Committee members pointed out that during a missed shift, the jail was legally liable to provide care to inmates, many of whom are not in good physical condition.

“That’s just, to me, a nightmare,” said Mercer Judge-Executive Scott Moseley.

Jail officials were also dissatisfied with high pharmacy costs. Williams explained that Southern Health Partners could not buy supplies without paying sales tax.

“I can show you what’s been spent,” Williams said. “My goal is to be as transparent as possible.”

He said the contractor’s goal is to remain as conservative as possible, avoiding name brand drugs and buying generics. He said they look for opportunities to provide medications at no cost, such as HIV drugs. However, despite their efforts,

Williams said the pharmacy budget has been exceeded every year.

Committee members said other vendors were saying that what Southern Health Partners was charging was out of line.

“I will not sign that contract because it’s not prudent,” Moseley said. “I don’t have any intentions to sign at all.”

While McDowell Health was not the lowest bidder, officials said they have several advantages, including participation in the federal 340B drug pricing program, which allows them to get the lowest possible rate plus rebates on certain medications, including insulin. Boyle County Jail Brian Wofford said insulin costs would go down to $1-4 per dose.

Boyle County Judge-Executive Howard Hunt said another benefit is if the jail opens up their home incarceration program, McDowell Health could provide home healthcare at no cost to offenders who qualify for Medicaid.

Another advantage of going with McDowell was keeping money local.

“We are reinvesting in ourselves,” Hunt said.

“My only concern is that they would be moving from a community minded health mind-set to a corrections mind-set, which are vastly different things in my mind,” said Mercer County Attorney Ted Dean. Dean worried about staffing. Hospitals across the country have faced staffing shortages over the last two years.

“They wouldn’t have bid it unless they thought they could staff it,” Hunt said. “I’m pretty well pleased with their willingness to step out into something they haven’t done.”

“Let’s do it for a year,” Brian Wofford said. If, at the end of the year, the committee felt the arrangement was not working out, they could go with another provider. The board voted unanimously to approve the bid.

The Joint Jail Committee meets next on Friday, June 24, 10 a.m. at the Mercer County Fiscal Courthouse.

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