LAWRENCE COUNTY Sheriff lacks funds for overtime due to late-night hospital runs
Most problems stem from people injured during an arrest.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Lawrence County officials say there is no easy way to prevent jail inmates from being taken to area hospitals after the county sheriff's staff goes off duty, raising overtime costs.
Sheriff Robert Clark approached county commissioners Thursday about replenishing his overtime budget with $10,000 from the county contingency.
Clark had been on target for 2004, spending only about 50 percent of his overtime by the end of June, but transports to the hospital in July ate up the rest of the money in his budget, he said.
Commissioners met Friday afternoon with Clark, jail Warden Mark Fellows, PrimeCare Medical Services -- the in-house jail medical staff -- county Controller Mary Ann Reiter, who is president of the county prison board, and Judge Dominick Motto, Lawrence County Common Pleas Court president.
Commissioners have said they are facing a $1.3 million deficit by year's end and cannot afford to replenish the sheriff's overtime budget.
Judge Motto offered to see whether any of the inmates needing medical care could be put on house arrest, which would alleviate deputy sheriffs' duties when they are getting treatment.
But Lynn Sharp of PrimeCare Medical Services said the majority of last month's problems stemmed from inmates who had injuries before they were brought to jail by police after an arrest.
"Some people who come in are so high that they don't even know they are injured. Others during their arrest may swallow a large amount of pills, and it may not kick in for a few hours, and after they get to they jail they start overdosing," Sharp said.
Inmates taken to the hospital last month had various ailments including chest pains, drug overdoses, psychotic episodes, deep lacerations, a collapsed lung and seizures, said Todd Haskins, vice president of PrimeCare Medical Services.
Haskins noted PrimeCare provides no on-site doctors, but registered nurses in the jail consult with a doctor before an inmate is approved for hospital transport. Sharp said for the 30 trips last month to the hospital, there were probably 150 other inmates who received in-jail treatment.
Clark, however, questioned why the majority of inmates were being transported later in the day, when his officers are off duty and must be called in on overtime.
Haskins said in most jails inmates sleep late, and problems don't develop until later in the evening.
Commissioners asked Clark whether he could stagger his officers' hours to have someone on duty in the evening to take inmates to the hospital.
He said all 10 deputies are needed during regular working hours to take inmates to court appearances.
Clark noted that in some cases his deputies and the inmates wait for hours in the Jameson Hospital emergency room for care.
Commissioners asked jail personnel to call Jameson and Ellwood City Hospital to find out which had a shorter wait and then transport prisoners to the hospital with a shorter wait to cut overtime costs.
The group will meet again Wednesday during the county prison board to discuss other alternatives.