MERCER COUNTY Panel seeks to curb inmate costs

Medical costs could reach about $250,000 this year.
MERCER, Pa. -- Mercer County Prison Board wants the county to hire a consultant to help get a handle on jail inmate medical costs.
The board voted Monday to recommend the hiring of the Pennsylvania Inmate Medical Cost Containment program.
The cost would be $2,836 a year, and the county commissioners would have to approve and sign the contract.
Still rising: Board chairman Dennis Songer said inmate medical costs for 2000 totaled $209,000. For the first eight months of this year, the cost already stood at $207,000 and is still rising.
Jeff Gill, jail warden, said $78,557 of the latter amount represents prescription drugs administered to inmates.
PIMCC will initially concentrate on reducing that drug cost, Gill said, adding, "I think they'll save us a considerable amount of money."
Songer said PIMCC, formed by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, could also deal with other medical costs, including negotiating fees with doctors, ambulance services and other service providers.
It could come up with a group purchasing plan to reduce drug costs and is expected to set up training programs for jail personnel, establish medical procedures designed to streamline delivery of those services and cut costs and do some case management work, Songer said.
Considers charging: The board still is looking at the possibility of charging inmates for medical costs, but its cost-containment committee isn't ready to make any recommendations along those lines, Songer said.
The board did vote to implement one fee increase and added a new one to be assessed against inmates.
Those given house arrest for minor offenses will now have to pay a fee of $20 a day, up from $15.50, Songer said.
That covers the basic cost of monitoring their whereabouts, he said.
Effective immediately, inmates who fail to make fine and cost payment arrangements with the county's cost containment coordinator before appearing in court for sentencing will be assessed a $15 service fee.
Payment plan: Previously, there was no charge for failing to make those arrangements, but the sentencing judge would send the offender back to jail until a payment plan was in place.
Songer said the $15 fee would help recover some of the court time and additional jail time caused by noncompliance.