VALPARAISO | Porter County Sheriff Dave Lain hopes to have a recommendation at the next county commissioners meeting for providing round-the-clock medical service for inmates, but commission President John Evans warned that Lain also better include a recommendation on how to pay for it.
Lain was expected to make a recommendation at Tuesday's board of commissioners meeting. Instead, he told the board he needed to get clarification on some of the information provided by bidders interested in providing the service. In response to Evans admonition, Lain said, "We are really sharpening our pencils."
The sheriff received 10 responses from vendors to provide medical health care, mental health care and pharmacy service for inmates. Lain said some provided proposals for all three while others were for only one of the three.
"There's a whole laundry list of services we're trying to cover," Lain said. "We have long contended the county needs to provide 24/7 professional medical personnel in the jail. We don't have the personnel to do that and never have. It's not that we've avoided the services. We've left the decision-making process to the jail officers, when it should be a professional medical decision."
He said he asked the National Institute of Corrections to do an assessment of the jail's medical services and make recommendations. The recommendations were used to seek proposals from vendors. Based on the proposals received, he said the cost could range from $1.2 million to $1.8 million a year.
"It's something we're trying to be proactive (about) rather than reactive so we don't find ourselves in the situation Lake County is in. They are under a federal mandate (to provide such services). When that happens, the county gets told what it will provide rather than working out a solution on its own."
Calling it "the biggest liability the county faces," Lain said funding it is the $64,000 question.
"Everyone is in agreement that we need to provide these services," he said. "This isn't an option. It is a constitutional issue. Nobody has yet been in agreement from whence the funds will come."
Commissioner Laura Blaney said a plan to provide two nurses at the jail was presented while she was on the county council a few years ago, but it was withdrawn. She said it was much less expensive. Lain said it takes at least 4.2 people to provide 24/7 service.
"We might have thought two people were adequate in the past. We are not in violation of any federal standards, but there is a need for enhancement of our medical services. We have three medical persons to serve a population of 430 inmates. That's not enough. We really do need to get this contract."