LOCK HAVEN - The Clinton County Prison Board is looking at ways to put a cap on spiraling medical costs without hurting inmate care - and will look at options beyond the present contract with Clinton Medical Associates when that pact expires.
The move to investigate other possibilities arrived at the recommendation of Clinton County Commissioner Jeff Snyder, who also serves as prison board chairman.
The action to seek additional offers for medical services to begin at the start of the next calendar year was approved unanimously - with one exception.
Snyder said, by his calculation, it appears as if the medical agency is charging an average $30,000 a month for serving an average 230 inmates, many of whom have no ailments and do not require medical treatment.
He also suggested the possible hiring of medical staff, including one or two registered nurses and one or two LPNs, with a contracted physician to supervise, might be cheaper.
Contracted or in-house, Commissioner Joel Long, also a prison board member, suggested any examination of options should be inclusive rather than exclusive.
There was some discussion about legal liability, and the benefits of contracted versus in-house services, but most of the board members appeared to reach the consensus that if a lawsuit is filed for malpractice or neglect, the county, prison and staff member would be a named defendant regardless of the situation.
"We can look into liability when we examine the contract terms," Commissioner and board member Pete Smeltz said. "Bottom line is if we hire our own and they make a mistake that's on us."
Snyder also pointed to the present contract as vague on several points, and said any future contract for medical services should be reviewed by both the prison board's solicitor and the county government's legal counsel.
"Somebody should explain to me why we are being billed for days people don't work," said Judge J. Michael Williamson. He noted CMA appeared to be billing the prison for sick days, vacation days and holidays.
Clinton County District Attorney Mike Salisbury, also a prison board member, abstained from voting on any of the related issues. His wife Wendy now works for Jersey Shore Medical Associates, but had been a long-term employee for Clinton Medical Associates.
Snyder said he believed "over-charges" had been occurring, particularly when it comes to the assessment for telephone calls to CMA.
The May billing, he said, appeared to charge one hour per telephone call and had the time been measured at one-tenth of an hour instead of a full hour, he believed the bill might have been reduced as much as $918.75.
Salisbury contradicted a portion of that assessment, saying the contract called for telephone contacts to be charged on a quarter-hour basis, but agreed future agreements could focus on that and other considerations.