By editorial board • 

Contracting jail services could provide dividends

We are not big fans of the contracting out of public services to private agencies. We take particular exception to the contracting out of services falling within a public agency’s core function, believing those should never be delegated.

Government is not a business and should not be run like one. It’s too easy for profit-oriented private operators to cut corners that should not be cut, and to duck accountability when it comes time to pay the piper, leaving the public on the hook.

But sometimes specialized functions lying outside an agency’s main area of expertise can, in fact, be more efficiently and effectively handled by an outside party. And delivery of medical services in a jail setting may well be one of them.

Sheriff’s offices understand the corrections function better than any private operator ever could. Medical service, though, represents a largely foreign realm.
Two recent events converged to urge Yamhill County Sheriff Tim Svenson in that direction.

First, deputies responding to an unsuccessful hanging attempt lodged a Sheridan woman who proceeded to hang herself in the jail. Second, the jail lost its lead nurse and found it hard to recruit a replacement in a market so tight that signing bonuses often become part of the package.

Feeling the pressure to take immediate action, the county opted to sign a six-month contract with a national leader in the field, renewable for another six months on a month-by-month basis. Doing so will allow time to put the contract out to bid, ensuring it’s getting the best possible deal.

The county chose Correct Care Solutions LLC, which is already serving more than a quarter-million inmates in 440 correctional facilities.

Based in Nashville, its network is spread across 38 states, including the western states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, California, Nevada and Arizona. And its roster of Oregon clients includes the Coos, Columbia, Douglas, Jackson and Josephine county jails, giving it a relevant base of localized experience.

The contract costs $105,000 a month, which works out to $1.26 million annually. That’s significantly more than the $714,000 the county spent last year, but Correct Care is promising to provide a much broader array of services — one that could easily pay its way with a single avoided legal judgment.

The county is currently getting by with 10 hours a day of medical staffing, leaving the jail with no nighttime coverage at all. Correct Care is promising 24 hours a day of registered nurse staffing, augmented by 40 hours of nursing supervisor time, four hours of physician time, three hours of dentist time, three hours of dental assistant time and 10 hours of other medical support.

We think teaming up with a national leader initially makes sense, as does putting the contract out to bid six months to a year in the future in order to gain exposure to the broader market in a more deliberate fashion. The fact that several Oregon counties in our size range have made the same move, and are happy with it, gives us an additional measure of comfort. 

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