Wright County Board approves jail medical contract

An ongoing problem for years in Wright County has been the growing cost of paying the medical bills of prisoners housed in their county jail.
At the Jan. 22 meeting of the Wright County Board, the commissioners were informed that the costs were going to rise again in 2013, but, considering how other counties have fared in recent years, Wright County has it pretty good by comparison.
Wright County Jail Administrator Pat O’Malley came before the board to present the 2013 contract with Allina/Buffalo Hospital. The contract, worth $240,000, represents a 9 percent increase over the 2012 contract, but O’Malley said that the program has worked extremely well for the county and has been better than the alternatives.
“We started working with Allina in the mid-1990s,” O’Malley said. “The contract has grown since then. It is a good fit for us, because, if we need to take a prisoner out of the jail for emergency room services, we can bring them to Allina/Buffalo Hospital. It’s not always easy to find medical personnel that will deal with our clientele. What this provides is a way to reduce the number of prisoners that need to be removed from the jail for medical reasons.”
Prior to 1996, the county didn’t have a contract with a local hospital. The county’s public health department was in charge of prisoner care and prisoners were taken to area hospitals as situations dictated. As costs began to skyrocket, the county contracted with a private health care provider, but the company quickly went bankrupt and left the county holding the bag. An emergency deal was struck with Allina/Buffalo Hospital and a relationship has been forged and solidified since then. The county can order supplies at cost from the Allina contract and the doctors and emergency room staff are available to the jail at all times.
With 80 percent of the counties in the state contracting for medical services at their jails, Wright County is in a solid position when compared to the costs incurred by others. O’Malley said some counties have doubled the costs that Wright County faces and, while the cost of jail medical continues to rise, it remains the best alternative for the county and its taxpayers.
“The costs are going up but that is based primarily on all of the costs associated with medical care going up,” O’Malley said. “We have a strong working relationship with Allina and see this as a benefit to the county. This is a program that has worked very well for us and we don’t have the huge costs that some counties have when there is a medical issue at their jail.”
The board unanimously approved a contract for 2013 with Allina/Buffalo Hospital.
In other items on the Jan. 22 agenda, the board:
•  Provided signatures on a grant application for the county fair board to apply for Legacy Grant funding for the construction of a performing arts center at the fairgrounds. The county is seeking $50,000 in grant funding for the project, which has an estimate cost of approximately $90,000. The county board provided a letter of support to accompany the grant proposal and, if the grant is awarded, will consider giving the fair board a loan to cover the rest of the costs to complete this building this year.
• Referred to the committee of the whole discussion over appointments to the board of adjustment and planning commission. Due to redistricting in 2012, there are two commissioner districts that currently don’t have a member of the board of adjustment and two don’t have a member on the planning commission. Discussion will also take place to line up appointments for commission members to match up with the terms of the commissioner who appoints that person to a committee or advisory board.
• In a related item, approved the appointment of Dan Mol to the board of adjustment. He was nominated by Commissioner Pat Sawatzke and lives in Sawatzke’s district. Mol is a Clearwater Township Board member.
• Approved annual payments to the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust for the county’s 2013 insurance premiums. The payments include $591,144 for workers’ compensation and $519,410 for property/casualty.
• Authorized increasing the number of seasonal camp sits in Collinwood Regional Park from six to eight. The sites, which cost $1,900 a year, have been popular among campers and have typically sold out quickly.
• Set a transportation committee of the whole meeting for 1:30 a.m. Monday, Feb. 4. The purpose of the meeting is to have a joint meeting with the Stockholm Township Supervisors to discuss long-term solutions, responsibilities and partnerships concerning Rhoades Avenue. The road is in the township, but most of the traffic associated with it is traffic heading into Collinwood Park and has been in disrepair in recent years.
•  Introduced John Bowen as a new assistant county attorney. Bowen has five years of trial experience and most recently served as assistant county attorney in Pine County in east central Minnesota.
• Approved a meeting of the tax forfeit committee for 8:30 a.m. prior to the Jan. 29 county board meeting.

Freelancer John Holler covers government and the Wright County Board of Commissioners.