Find out why bills not paid

Published 12:33 am Sunday, December 14, 2014

At the beginning of the month, Lawrence County commissioners got a rude awakening when they learned the county owes medical bills to St. Mary’s Medical Center-Ironton Campus to the tune of $150,000.

Those bills for inmate care have been racking up over the past two years since the hospital opened.

Even worse, it turns out the county hasn’t paid inmate medical bills from any hospital in the Tri-State over the past decade.

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This is simply unacceptable.

Sheriff Jeff Lawless said he has turned in the proper paper work each time he receives a bill. So why hasn’t the county made good on its debts? Where is the break down in communication and fiscal responsibility?

It might be best to take a look at where the money from those bills is supposed to come from. There is a jail expense fund — which began the year with $426,000 — and the money in that fund is to go towards inmate medical care, out-of-county housing and repairs.

Right now, there is about $37,000 left in that fund. Much of that conceivably went to out-of-county housing and repairs, but none went to medical bills.

And $107,000 was transferred to the general fund over the course of the year to cover shortages in the that fund, a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

What is unclear is how the commission couldn’t be aware of this issue. If Lawless sends the bills to the commissioners’ office for approval, and their office sends a purchase order on to the auditor’s office for them to disperse the funds, who isn’t doing their job?

Lawless is right to be worried that area medical centers will eventually find ways around providing care for the county’s inmates. This could lead to lawsuits the county just can’t afford. And the jail is already staring down the barrel of state housing mandates.

County leaders need to fill in the gaps of why these bills haven’t been paid and stop nickel and diming the sheriff’s money.