Marion Co. Sheriff tries to tackle Jail healthcare costs - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Marion Co. Sheriff tries to tackle Jail healthcare costs

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MARION COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -- Medical bills are driving up the costs of operating local jails and the Marion County Sheriff is trying to take some of the burden off taxpayers.

Just recently the Marion County Jail had to deal with some inmates developing a mysterious rash. They were quarantined and checked by the doctor as a precaution. It turned out to be nothing contagious, but still, treating inmates' medical needs takes time and taxpayer money.

Sheriff Ronnie 'Bo' Burnett now has inmates paying a co-pay towards treatment if they can.

"It's a constant strain to deal with the medical part of it," says Sheriff Burnett.

Burnett says it can be a challenge maintaining the jail's budget while providing medical care for inmates.

"Like I tell people, it's a jail. It's not a motel. I'm sorry we don't have everything they want, but we spend a lot of money in Marion county each year providing medical care for these people," he says.

It can cost up to $200,000 a year. That provides for a full-time doctor and nurse staff, as well as unexpected emergency medical treatment.

"I was showing you a bill here for a guy that was brought in last month, DUI, and at some point had a heart attack and I've got a $15,000 bill right now I'm going to have to try to see what I can do about," says Burnett.

He says you never know what might contaminate an inmate population and that goes for any jail.

"A lot of those people don't take care of themselves, I don't think take care of themselves properly outside the jail. Then when they come in, they're all mingling together. You're going to have problems like that."

Burnett is now taking action.

"I don't taxpayers ought to have to put out for everything," he says.

Burnett now has inmates help pay for treatment.

"We initiated about 3 months ago a co-pay. If they have money on the books and they request to see the doctor, we're trying to get some of the money back," says Burnett.

Burnett says the co-pay is usually no more than $15.

Just to put his budget in perspective, we checked with the Hamilton County Jail.

Officials there say with cutbacks to mental health facilities across the state, they have seen an increase in inmates who require mental health care treatment.

The Hamilton County Jail has a medical care contract with Erlanger for $423,000 a year and an additional $250,000 contract for pharmaceutical needs.

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