VALPARAISO | Porter County Sheriff Dave Lain is seeking proposals from private companies to provide round-the-clock medical care at the county jail to address what he called the single largest liability facing county government.
There currently is no medical staff at the jail from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., which leaves decision-making during those periods up to jail staff and results in the costly move of transporting inmates to the emergency room, he said.
The jail currently relies on four county employee nurses and a private supervisor, Lain said. The new model calls for 13 nurses, either private or county employees, he said.
The additional nursing staff also could serve the needs at the county's juvenile detention center, he said.
Lain's goal is to have the new system in place by Jan. 1, though he first must persuade the County Council to come up with the estimated $800,000 needed for the change. Funding for medical improvements at the jail was not part of the $38 million proposed 2013 budget approved Monday by the council.
The county also faces the costly proposal of opening the third pod at the jail to address overcrowding. The move, which was recommended by a recent federal study of the facility, is projected to cost $933,000 to hire the 16 additional guards needed.
In other business during Tuesday's county commissioner meeting, Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, vented his frustration over the council rejecting a 2013 budget proposal the night before that he helped work out with three council members and a consultant.
Evans accused the slim majority of council members opposing his plan and the county auditor of hijacking the budget process by raiding budget reserves and leaving no funds to address medical service and staffing challenges at the jail. The approved budget further rejected a proposed $500 pay raise for employees and under funds employee health insurance, retirement and Social Security needs.
"They are playing Russian roulette with our budget, and the gun is squarely pointed at our county employees," he wrote.
The alternative proposal pitched by Evans and the others called for $2.46 million in budget cuts and a $2.5 million contribution of local income tax revenues to ease reliance on property taxes, which are no longer covering county spending. At least one member of the group opposing this alternative agreed with the concept of shifting to a greater reliance on the income tax but wanted it to be permanent.