County seeks new medical provider for jail

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Lauderdale County supervisors are searching for a new medical provider for the county jail after the county’s current provider announced it would be ending its contract Sept. 30.

Lauderdale County supervisors are searching for a new medical provider for the county jail after the county’s current provider announced it would be ending its contract Sept. 30.

In a work session Thursday, County Administrator Chris Lafferty told supervisors the service is out for bids, but they can expect to see costs increase.

“Our current company has sent us a letter, or sent the sheriff a letter, I got it from Lee (Board Attorney Lee Thaggard)…but basically, they are canceling us in an effort to raise their price,” he said. “So, we will see some increases with our jail.”

The letter from Southern Health Partners, which operates the county jail medical service, came after the Board of Supervisors put out for bids in an effort to find a lower price. Thaggard said he wasn’t surprised Southern Health Partners decided to end its contract after the service was put out for bids.

“I kind of expected it based on when we decided we were gonna put it out for bid,” he said. “There aren’t many players in this market, and you’d expect their rates would go up.”

Thaggard said the new bids could be more expensive than the county’s current contract, but cautioned it would be unwise for the county to attempt to provide inmate medical services itself.

“We do not want to go back into business of having to run that medical clinic ourselves,” he said.

Prior to contracting out, Thaggard said the county did run the clinic at the jail. Medical service providers, he said, are set up to find qualified staff, purchase bulk pharmaceuticals and manage a clinic, where the county is not.

“We’ve done it in the past, but it’s really, really hard,” he said.

Medical care for inmates is required under the Eighth Amendment, which states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, more excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” In the 1974 U.S. Supreme Court case Estelle v. Gamble, the court found denial of necessary medical care meets the criteria of cruel and unusual punishment stating, “The infliction of such unnecessary suffering is inconsistent with contemporary standards of decency…”

Lafferty said he had reached out to multiple companies for bids on the clinic and expected the county would have several bids to review when it came time to open them.

Bids are set to be opened at 9 a.m. Sept. 13.

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