When the new year begins, Dawson County’s jail plans to have nursing staff there around the clock, sheriff’s office Maj. Greg Rowan told the Board of Commissioners on Oct. 6.
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After Rowan’s work session presentation, the board unanimously approved a bid not to exceed $894,329 for contracted jail medical services with CorrectHealth Dawson, LLC,
This is the same contractor the Dawson County Detention Center has had since 2014. The contract’s term will begin on Jan. 1, 2023.
“We currently do not have and have never had that,” Rowan said of 24/7 nursing staff, “but quite honestly, we should’ve had that all along.”
With the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office intaking inmates at all hours of the day, Rowan elaborated, a person could be brought in at any time in need of “immediate evaluation” for matters such as alcohol or drug intoxication or overdose scenarios.
DCSO released a request for proposal this past February to get an updated price for all-inclusive health services to include the 24/7 nursing. The current contract nearing its end, price increases and concerns over available staffing due to the general nursing crisis also drove the agency’s search for updated pricing, Rowan said.
In addition to the increased nursing presence, which Rowan deemed the biggest change, there will also be a little more hours scheduled for a general doctor and mental health professional. Overall, healthcare at the jail will include inmate appraisals and consultations upon intake, dental, mental and hospital care–in other words, “all the facets of healthcare,” Rowan said.
CorrectHealth Dawson’s projected annual price initially came out to $719,953.
“The difference between the $719,000 and the $894,000 is that unknown factor of the nursing cost. Because you have nurses that may make $35 an hour that work for CorrectHealth directly,” Rowan said. “But if they don't have the staffing, they have to reach out to nursing staff services, and they may–and usually do– pay them double.”
In that case, higher rates may be charged to account for a portion that the staffing service would get back.
Rowan pointed to the nursing shortage as “systemic” or “across the board” with all jail nursing companies, not just DCSO’s partnering one.
“They’re just having a hard time hiring nurses,” he said. “It’s just like having a hard time hiring officers, firefighters and everything else right now. It's just the days we live in.”
The pricing accounts for overtime, and there will be a set overtime process. The new staffing matrix also includes a registered nurse who will act as a project coordinator, a more regular fixture and part of the jail’s healthcare team.
Rowan elaborated that the staffing was where “these dollars are” in terms of the bid.
For 2022, DCSO secured a $410,000 contract with CorrectHealth Dawson. Thus far, over the year’s first two fiscal quarters, there’s been an additional $128,455 charged for staffing.
When added to the original price, that is closer to the $719,953 that was originally given as a bid for medical services, which “is not a pretty thing,” Rowan said.
He added that irregardless of the staffing issues, medical costs “are on the rise anyway.”
Chairman Billy Thurmond pointed out that the $894,329 figure was a negotiated price, which Rowan confirmed, explaining that county purchasing manager Melissa Hawk helped secure that price down from a starting point of $1.2 million.
District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett asked about who else CorrectHealth Dawson does business with and whether those agencies were also being charged similar prices.
Rowan explained that agencies in surrounding counties, like Cherokee and Lumpkin, use them, with Thurmond adding that 42 sheriff’s offices have the same medical contractor.
There stands a $174,000 difference between the national contract price and the maximum could-be price, the chairman added.
“You want to be the only one they’re doing that to,” Thurmond said, “even if that means making a call to some of your comrades and making sure that they’re doing the same thing to them that they’re doing to us.”
Rowan agreed and explained that DCSO jail Capt. Anthony Davis is currently reviewing the Q1 and Q2 statements to make sure everything checks out.
“[With] that little bit of due diligence like that,” said Thurmond, “I think that’ll make us and the citizens feel a little bit better.”