As inmate population grows, MRRJ faces rising healthcare costs

By Sergio Ossorio, contributor

As it plans an expansion to accommodate its growing inmate population, the Middle River Regional Jail also finds itself in need of more funding to cover healthcare costs of those incarcerated there. The issue was discussed at both the MRRJ Authority Board meeting on Feb. 3 and a finance committee meeting last month.

One healthcare challenge posed by the rising inmate population is the timeliness of intake screens by the jail’s nurses. While the goal is for inmates to be seen within four hours, said MRRJ superintendent Jeffery Newton, some inmates are not seen for 24 hours or more.

“This is a risk-management issue,” Newton said, at the Jan. 24 meeting of the MRRJ finance committee. “We don’t have enough nursing staff to do what we need to do to appropriately and timely assess the health and welfare of new arrests.”

A chart illustrating MRRJ’s recent struggles to conduct timely medical screens after intake. Source: MRRJ Authority Board

Finance director Jeannie Colvin said the current operating budget was based on a maximum of 895 inmates. On Feb. 3, a total of 890 inmates were being held at the jail, according Maj. Eric Young, MRRJ director of operations. On average, however, the jail now houses around 930 inmates.

As a result of the strain being placed on medical services at MRRJ, jail officials plan to increase next year’s operating budget by $136,000. That will allow for four additional hours per week for doctors and 12 more hours per week for dental services.

“We’re essentially doubling the number of dental hours per month because our waitlist is too long,” said Newton at the January finance committee meeting.

Based on an assessment of five months of recent operations, officials determined that MRRJ had not been offering sufficient physician hours per week.

On a related note, MRRJ eliminated part-time doctor positions on Aug. 1, 2019, and began using a contract service. Employing part-time doctors had led to scheduling inconsistencies and unreliable service delivery. Newton said the switch to consistent, same-day, contracts has streamlined the efficiency of the medical staff. 

“They’re here when they’re supposed to be; they see the patients they’re supposed to see, so it’s working very well,” he said.

Additionally, MRRJ nursing staff will now be required to complete monthly trainings. Previously, mandatory training was only required every two years. Newton said that was insufficient to maintain appropriate skill levels. In the coming years, the jail plans to develop additional training programs to improve and maintain the skill level of staff.

Also discussed at the Feb. 3 authority board meeting:

  • MRRJ will be implementing a new security software key control system that controls all doors and locks the jail. The $125,000 system is intended to simplify key maintenance.
  • To secure a bond rating and the services of a financial advisor for the planned jail expansion, the jail authority will spend $175,000.
  • MRRJ officials will meet on Feb. 27 with the Department of Corrections and Moseley Architects to review the needs assessment plan, also related to the planned expansion.

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