MANISTIQUE - The Schoolcraft County Board has postponed its decision on the privatization of health care for inmates housed in Schoolcraft County Jail. The board had previously intended to make a decision regarding inmate health care during Thursday's meeting.
Commissioners have been considering making the medical care of inmates an in-house operation using the services of Health Professionals, Ltd. (HPL). HPL provides on-site medical, behavioral, pharmacy and other medical-related services to correctional facilities.
Currently, the county uses Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital (SMH) for all emergencies and medical care.
According to Commissioner Dan Lafoille, the county's finances serve as a primary reason for the delay.
"This fiscal year, I just have to tell you, 'no'," he explained to HPL representative Jack Jadin. "The closest time we can do it is Oct. 1, and that's in the new budget."
Medical premiums for county employees, in particular, are going to hit the county hard again next fiscal year, said Lafoille, making it difficult to factor in yet another expenditure.
"I'm telling you, you guys (commissioners) are looking at a possible 40 percent increase on medical (premium costs)...that translates to $161,000," he said. "Where you're going to come up with that...?"
Commissioner Craig Reiter contended that while the county faces high insurance costs and a tighter budget, privatizing medical care for inmates would not cost the county more, and could potentially save money.
The services of HPL would cost approximately $3,500 a month, depending on which of the three presented plans the county chooses.
Additions like on-site x-ray raises the per-month price.
According to Commissioner Jerry Zellar, the county is approximately $20,000 over their budgeted $40,000 for inmate health care, and still has more than three months left in this fiscal year.
"We're on pace for $90,000 (for inmate health care this fiscal year)," said Zellar.
In addition to the county's financial woes, Lafoille added that there is also the possibility that SMH will give the county discounted service for inmate health care.
"George (Ecclesine, commissioner) and I went to the hospital to speak to Mr. (George) Montgomery (SMH CEO) today, and they're going to look at giving us some kind of discount," he explained.
Commissioner Ecclesine explained that seeing what the hospital will offer the county may be worth the wait.
"I think we ought to at least explore what they might be able to do for us before we make a final decision on this," he said.
Until the commissioners get a handle on SMH's offer and the budget for the next fiscal year, Lafoille said the decision to bring in HPL would have to wait.
"I think this is a plan we need to try, in one form or another...I don't think we can afford to try it until Oct. 1," he said. "I suspect that we're going to have to go with the lowest cost form to start, to see if we do, in fact, save money."
Commissioners voted unanimously to make a decision on whether or not the county will go with the services of HPL in their Aug. 16 meeting.