Chippewa County chooses private firm to provide medical care for inmates


— Chippewa County will contract with a private firm for medical services in the county jail, rather than pursue a three-county agreement with Countryside Public Health for the service.

In a unanimous vote March 7, the Chippewa County Board of Commissioners approved a $80,999 bid by Advanced Correctional Health to provide medical services to the 17-bed jail.

While the commissioners said they preferred to obtain services locally, the awarded bid was significantly lower than those offered by Countryside Public Health and CCM Health.

Chippewa, Lac qui Parle and Swift counties had been in discussions with Countryside Public Health about the possibility of a three-county jail medical service contract. The decision by Chippewa County will change the economic model for providing those services in Lac qui Parle and Swift counties, since Chippewa County has the highest inmate population among the three.

Liz Auch, Countryside Public Health director, told the commissioners that the other two counties are also considering bids from private firms, as well as the public health agency. She agreed that the decision by Chippewa County will likely have a domino effect.

Countryside Public Health is currently providing medical services in the three jails with its existing staff.

"We are using current employees and not doing other work and programs," Auch told the commissioners in response to questions. "Other work is not being completed as we speak."

Countryside would have assigned a full-time staff member to provide medical care for the three jail facilities if a contract involving all three counties was approved.

Like other counties across the state, Chippewa County is seeing its jail medical costs rise. T.J. Schacherer, Chippewa County Jail administrator, said mental health needs have grown greatly in correctional care.

Chippewa County was previously paying approximately $50,000 a year for medical services in the jail to a private provider, according to Sheriff Derek Olson. That company has filed for bankruptcy protection.

The new contract approved by the commissioners does not include mental health services. The commissioners are expected to approve a proposal from Woodland Centers to provide mental health services at an estimated cost of $10,400 per year. Schacherer said the ability to provide mental health services from Woodland has the added benefit of local accessibility to care for inmates once they are released.

Woodland Centers provides adult mental heath, youth mental health, substance use, and crisis supports services in seven Minnesota counties: Big Stone, Chippewa, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Meeker, Renville and Swift.

Countryside Public Health offered a bid of $119,904 a year to provide medical services to the Chippewa County Jail with a nurse practitioner as the primary provider. Its bid totaled $169,970 if a medical doctor served as primary provider.

CCM Health offered a bid package of services totaling $186,300 per year using a medical doctor as primary provider.

Countryside Public Health will continue to provide medical services in the Chippewa County Jail until Advanced Correctional Health takes over responsibilities, which might not be until June, according to Olson.

Auch said her agency remains committed to providing medical services to the jails in its service area as long as counties need it.

The Countryside Public Health board of directors had earlier voted 5-3 to move forward with providing medical services in county jails in its service area, she told commissioners.