Inmate medical bills outstanding

Published 10:41 am Friday, December 5, 2014

In the two and a half years since St. Mary’s Medical Center opened the Ironton Campus, the county jail has racked up approximately $150,000 in medical bills for inmate care there.

The amount the county has paid? Zero.

“There has never been money to pay them,” said Summer Sullivan of the commission staff, who processes the billing.

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In fact, the last time the county paid a hospital for prisoner care was in 2004. Those bills were to SOMC in Portsmouth for $24,988.

Medical bills would come out of the jail expense fund that pays for out-of -county housing and repairs. Right now there is $37,880 left in that fund that started out at the first of the year at $426,000. Out of that the commission has transferred $107,000 to cover shortages in the general fund. There is no designated fund for medical expenses.

“We submit a bill to the commissioners and they forward the bill onto the auditor to be paid,” Sheriff Jeff Lawless said. “We submit the bill in a timely manner every time. They have not been paid. I brought this to their attention the other day.”

Bills first are sent to the sheriff’s office where two members of Lawless’ staff review them to make sure the county is billed Medicare or Medicaid rate. If not, the bill is sent back to the medical facility to be recoded.

Commissioner Bill Pratt said he was unaware of the situation until Lawless informed the commission of it last week.

“It is something that needs to be paid,” Pratt said. “They may take a settlement payment if paid in a lump sum. An outstanding bill I don’t like to see that.”

When Commission President Les Boggs was asked about the situation, he said, “I’ll look into that. That’s all I’m going to say.”

Lawless is concerned outstanding bills could jeopardize future services.

“I am obligated to provide medical care to the inmates,” he said. “I will continue to take them to a medical facility. I can’t worry about what it might cost. I have to provide the care. When these entities are not being paid, it is causing me concern. Will these entities quit providing those services someday?”