Lake officials commit millions to inmate healthcare

2014-06-18T15:45:00Z 2014-06-18T21:53:22Z Lake officials commit millions to inmate healthcareBy Bill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com

CROWN POINT | The Lake County Board of Commissioners agreed Wednesday to spend as much as $6.1 million over the next year and a half on health care for Lake County jail inmates.

It was a victory for Sheriff John Buncich who had clashed with commissioners for months over how much to pay Dr. William Forgey, the jail's medical director. Forgey's Correctional Health Indiana Inc. provides the the lockup's medical staff.

The sheriff first asked commissioners in December to give Forgey a $4.2 million contract this year. Instead, commissioners trimmed that request by nearly $400,000 and told the sheriff to cut his overall budget.

The sheriff said Wednesday he made those cuts and the U.S. Department of Justice insisted commissioners keep Forgey's 41-member staff in place to screen new jail inmates and treat them for a variety of medical problems, many of which arise from illicit drug abuse.

Commissioners will pay Forgey a little more than $2 million for the remainder of this year and the option of renewing Forgey's contract for all of next year at an estimated cost of $4.1 million.

Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, who had led the move to cut jail spending, said Wednesday he would vote for this deal because of Justice Department insistence.

Scheub said commissioners are saving taxpayers $2.2 million a year by transferring the cost of the sheriff's work-release program to the state-financed Lake County Community Corrections program by reducing the sheriff's payroll as well as medical care for those inmates.

Kellie Bittorf, community corrections director, told commissioners of their takeover of the sheriff's program last weekend. "It went smoothly. We received and are supervising 50 offenders convicted of minor felonies and misdemeanors. They live in a converted hospital under minimum security and work either for private business or groundskeeping duties at government properties."

The sheriff had opposed losing his work-release budget, saying he would have to lay off its 28-member staff.

However, Scheub said most of those staff members will be trained as county jail corrections officers. The Justice Department wants the county to hire 24 additional corrections officers to supervise inmates within the county jail.

Scheub also pressed the sheriff to return all vehicles and equipment previously used by the sheriff at the work-release center. "Those belong to the taxpayers, not him," Schueb said after the meeting.

Buncich said all the old work-release equipment had already been returned.

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