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TUESDAY, JULY 3, 2007
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Lawrence Co. Jail considering contracting out medical services

By Kristen Bishop
kbishop@decaturdaily.com 340-2443

MOULTON — Contracting out medical services at Lawrence County Jail could save the Sheriff's Department money in hospital and attorney fees, said Sheriff Gene Mitchell.

The Lawrence County Commission is expected to decide July 9 whether to hire Southern Health Partners to take over medical operations at the jail.

The company would staff onsite nurses and doctors and provide all medical equipment and prescription drugs for $107,000 a year — $5,000 less than the county spent on medical services for inmates in 2006, said Southern Health representative Bryce Paul.

The only additional cost to the county would be if outside expenses — hospital or dental fees for ailments that couldn't be treated at the jail — went over $30,000. Mitchell said officials from Morgan and Franklin counties who use the service told him they rarely go over that amount.

But the lower annual cost isn't the greatest benefit of the contract, he told Lawrence County commissioners last week. Southern Health also provides $1 million in liability coverage for each incident.

"This holds the county and the sheriff harmless if anything comes out of it," said Mitchell.

"A Franklin County commissioner said we should do it quick, that they drug their feet and now it's costing them a lot."

Mitchell's request comes weeks after an attorney for a former inmate filed suit against the Sheriff's Department and the county for "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs."

Clyde O'Neal Parker, 54, of 906 Lawrence County 106, Moulton, claims jail employees ignored his severe alcohol-withdrawal symptoms during his nine-day incarceration, according to the suit.

He was arrested and jailed March 22 for allegedly driving under the influence. He was released March 30.

Parker is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in U.S. District Court, and has requested a trial by jury.

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