Ill. jail implements 24-hour inmate medical coverage

The extra shift could cut down on the number of times the jail sends an inmate to the hospital


By John Reynolds
The State Journal-Register

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Inmates at the Sangamon County Jail will soon have around-the-clock access to an on-site medical professional.

Sangamon County Sheriff Wes Barr said the 24-hour coverage has been a goal of the department for a long time, and he is pleased it is finally becoming a reality.

Sangamon County Jail (Photo/Google Maps)
Sangamon County Jail (Photo/Google Maps)

"A large majority of the people who come into the jail don't go to the doctor regularly, so they do have medical issues. A lot of them have dependency issues with drugs or alcohol, and they don't take care of their health. We do the best we can to provide the best services we can to make sure they are taken care of while they are here."

Sangamon County has a contract with Advanced Correctional Healthcare of Peoria to provide medical services in the jail.

Currently, a licensed practical nurse and/or a registered nurse is on duty at the jail between 6 a.m. and 10:30 p.m., seven days a week. A doctor is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is in the jail a minimum of two hours a week. A nurse practitioner also is on call 24/7 and is in the jail five to 10 hours a week.

Starting this week, an additional LPN will fill the vacant, overnight slot.

The extra shift could cut down on the number of times the jail sends an inmate to the hospital. Hospital trips are costly and they also take away a correctional officer from the jail, said county board member Joel Tjelmeland Jr. of Springfield, the chair of the board's jail committee.

"It creates a lot of scheduling issues and a lot of overtime issues," Tjelmeland said. "It takes so much extra manpower to take these inmates to the hospital."

In 2016, 94 county jail inmates were sent to the hospital and 134 were sent to doctors' offices or clinics.

As of March 8, 21 inmates had been sent to the hospital this year.

The extra medical shift will cost the county about $51,300 annually. That will bring the total amount paid to Advanced Correctional Healthcare to about $786,400.

Barr said the cost for the extra shift will be covered with money in the inmate welfare fund. Revenue for the fund comes from proceeds from the jail commissary and money from the pay phones inmates use.

"Last year, we changed our phone vendor, so we've increased our revenue on the phone side. All the money we collect from the phones goes into an inmate welfare fund that we use for the benefit of the inmates," Barr said. "We are using the increase in revenue to increase medical coverage."

The extra coverage also should reduce the jail's liability.

"Inevitably, when somebody gets hurt, it's when we don't have medical staff on shift," Barr said. "We get lawsuits for not providing medical coverage. Now we've been successful in a large majority of these lawsuits, but the extra medical coverage will take out one of those arguments, that we didn't have a medical professional on staff."

The Sangamon County Jail was built to hold 314 inmates. The average daily inmate total recently has been around 345.

Normally around this time of year, the number would be closer to 330, Barr said. He said the warmer-than-usual weather could be to blame, as the inmate population typically dips in the colder winter months because there are fewer people outside committing crimes.

"With the warmer weather we've had this winter, we haven't seen that big dip in the inmate population. It's been staying pretty consistent," Barr said.

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©2017 The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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