According to Ingham County health officer Linda Vail, the jail needs at least five nurses for inmates to have 24/7 health care. For five years, the jail has been averaging three to four nurses.
The jail houses around 600 inmates, according to the county’s website.
“What are the limitations on site?” asked Chris Trubac, commissioner of District 10.
Wriggelsworth said the jail has the correct equipment and space, but not enough people. The jail is struggling to recruit medical staff and the question of switching to a privatized health company is up for debate.
With fewer nurses than necessary, the jail is not able to operate what it is designed for, creating challenges. Adding to that, when nurses need a day off, there is no backup medical staff to cover shifts. According to Wriggelsworth, more than $90,000 was spent on overtime pay in 2018.
Wriggelsworth said the paid overtime occurs when medical emergencies which force the officers whose shifts have ended to be called in to transport inmates to Sparrow Hospital. When inmates are taken to the hospital, there must be an official by their side at all times. However, on occasions when the officer needs to leave, Sparrow Hospital employees have helped watch inmates, according to Wriggelsworth.
Sparrow has decided to terminate its help with watching inmates, therefore unless the jail gets the proper on-site medical care, Lansing police officers are going to be called to the hospital. This means that if an Ingham officer needs to use the restroom or make a phone call, Lansing officers will then monitor the inmate.
“Providing services should be rare, but it’s the norm for us,” said Wriggelsworth.
Partnering with a correctional healthcare company would contain costs, and save money, according to Vail. Along with the money reduction, the services provided to the inmates are proposed to be of better quality than they currently are.
“This is not a cost-saving proposal, this is a quality proposal,” said Anne Scott, executive director of Ingham County Health Centers.
The jail sent requests to numerous medical providers to find one that fits jail requirements. According to Vail, four responded and only one company, called Corizon, met the criteria.
Corizon Correctional Health Care serves other county jails in Michigan, including Genesee, Calhoun and Kent. Wriggelsworth, Scott and Vail met to propose a plan to the commissioners, hoping to partner with Corizon.
“I’ve heard about this issue pretty much every year that I’ve been on this committee,” said Todd Tennis, commissioner for District 5.
Tennis was elected in 2006, and the proposal for moving to a private company has been an option for five years. According to Tennis, costs have been too high in the past and all of the potential companies had, and still have, a lot of issues.
“I’m not convinced, personally,” said Tennis.
According to District 2 Commissioner Ryan Sebolt, Corizon has had many bad reviews for recent inmates. The company has employees that are below the minimum required knowledge for health providers.
The commission concluded the topic without approving a contract and asked jail officials for more information.
“It is really important to have a clear plan,” said Trubac.
Vail agreed the county needs a clear plan in case any inmate treatment goes wrong if the jail is to privatize with a health company. The committee asked for more numbers, including lawsuits against Corizon, along with lawsuits against the current county health care for the jail.
“I encourage our committee members to talk to the sheriff,” concluded Tennis.