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Westmoreland

Westmoreland commissioners renew medical care contract for jail inmates, lower costs

Rich Cholodofsky
| Thursday, March 30, 2017, 4:36 p.m.

The growing drug epidemic that has seen the inmate population at Westmoreland County Prison swell has led to higher costs for care of the newly incarcerated.

Officials said Thursday that a new five-year contract with a Pittsburgh company will continue drug detoxification programs and all medical care for inmates but at a lower cost in the short term while providing assurances that a skyrocketing inmate population won't lead to significantly higher costs.

“Every month, the population and the number of inmates addicted to drugs goes up, and unfortunately the numbers are not going down,” Commissioner Gina Cerilli said.

Warden John Walton said 70 percent of inmates who entered the jail last month required drug detoxification.

Inmate medical care has been costly for the county, which last year paid about $2.2 million to Wexford Health Sources to operate the jail's infirmary. That included bonuses paid to the company when the average monthly inmate population exceeded 575. That bonus was paid nearly monthly and cost the county an additional $38,000, Walton said.

Wexford's new contract, unanimously approved Thursday by county commissioners, will cost the county $2 million for each of the next two years, with its base pay increasing to $2.1 million in 2019; $2.21 million in 2020; and nearly $2.28 million in 2021.

Additional fees will be paid should the jail's monthly population average exceed 650 inmates in each of the next five years.

“By raising the cap, it gives us more cost certainty,” Commissioner Ted Kopas said.

Officials initially expected medical costs at the jail to dramatically increase, but Wexford — one of three firms to submit proposals for the service — pitched a deal that actually lowered the base rate for medical care and increased the inmate cap.

Drug-related crimes have been on the rise, and inmates charged with offenses directly and indirectly associated with illegal substances account for a majority of the people incarcerated, Walton said.

Despite the lower cost, health care for inmates will continue at its current level, he said. Infirmary staffing will remain unchanged, and psychology services could increase as a video treatment program that will enable more inmates to receive counseling is set to launch.

The number of inmates at the facility continues to grow. There were 622 inmates at the jail Thursday, and the average throughout February was 632. The jail can house 711 inmates.

Walton attributed the continually growing population to a rise in female offenders. Several years ago, the jail had fewer than 90 women, but in the past year has routinely exceeded that number.

The jail's lone female unit can accommodate 98 inmates. Walton said 109 women were incarcerated Thursday.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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