Jail inmates: The doctor will see you now

Narrowly avoiding an 11th-hour walkout by the county jail’s health care provider, Butte County officials agreed this week to a costly fee increase to maintain health care services for inmates.

Prison Health Services informed the county last month that it intended to terminate its contracts with the jail and Juvenile Hall unless Butte County agreed to a 69 percent increase in the monthly premium it pays to maintain health care services for inmates. Last year, the county paid $92,495 a month for the services; Prison Health Services wanted to increase that fee to $151,000—or it would terminate its contract.

Two days before PHS was to pull out, it agreed to reduce the fee to $127,000 a month. The threat to leave, said General Services Director Bill Curry, caused “quite a panic” at the county, since the jail is required by law to provide health care to inmates.

In a letter to the county, PHS cited exorbitant heath care costs to treat Butte County Jail inmates as the reason for the proposed fee increase. That exploding cost was mainly due to inmates being referred outside the jail for untreated, long-term health problems that PHS’s standard-issue nursing staff couldn’t easily treat in the jail, Curry said.

Along with raising the monthly premium, the new contract caps off-site medical care per inmate at $10,000 a year and limits the cost of treatment to inmates with blood disorders to $10,000 a year.