MERCER COUNTY Jail picks new partner to provide health care

The switch to Southern Health Partners is expected to save about $200,000.
MERCER, Pa. -- A Tennessee company will take over administering health-care services at the county jail at a substantial savings, as well as greatly increasing the number of hours a nurse is on duty.
The Mercer County Prison Board authorized Warden Jeff Gill on Monday to work out details of a one-year contract with Southern Health Partners, Chattanooga, Tenn.
The contract is for professional services and thus did not have to be put out for competitive bidding. But Gill said after the meeting that he and Bill Boyle, the county's director of administrative services, have been reviewing potential companies for some time and that the Tennessee firm offered "by far, the most reasonable proposal we've had."
Gill said that under the current system, he expects the 2005 cost of jail health care to be $500,000. Health care at the jail is now managed by an arm of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, which provides oversight including billing services and medical reviewing of providers. Some of the local providers are UPMC, Primary Health Care and Sharon Regional Health System.
Anticipated changes
Southern has said it can oversee the health care of 220 inmates per day -- including the hiring of health providers who could be local -- for only $297,480 per year. Gill said the company also will provide a nurse at the jail for 12 hours per day, seven days per week.
Forty of the hours will be filled by a registered nurse and the remainder by a licensed practical nurse. Currently, Gill said, a nurse is at the jail for only four to five hours per day, three days a week.
He said the current system amounts to "crisis management," adding the increase in nurse hours should enhance inmate health care in many areas as well as reducing the number of emergency calls.
Southern Health Partners, which specializes in health-care management at small- and medium-sized jails, has had the contract at the Beaver County jail for almost 10 years. SHP also is in Butler County, and it meets national and state health-care regulations.
Gill said both the county and the health-care company can cancel the contract with 60 days notice. The new company is expected to take over when the new jail opens sometime later this year.

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