Jail $50,000 in the red

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— The medical bills of three inmates pushed the Routt County Sheriff's Office about $50,000 over budget in 2000.

Going into the year, the sheriff's office had contracted with Correctional Healthcare to cover up to $24,000 for inmate medical bills, said Sheriff John Warner.

By late December, Warner realized he needed that money and then some.

In the last part of the year, the cost of medical care for three inmates put the jail over budget for the first time in Warner's tenure.

"We got hammered with things we could not do anything about," said Lt. Fred Johnston, who oversees the jail. "There are certain things you can't avoid."

Seeing the red his jail budget is now written in, Warner is proposing that the Routt County commissioners look into buying additional insurance that would cover catastrophic incidents in the future.

Under Colorado law, the Routt County Jail must provide health care to inmates.

"Statutorily, the county is responsible for inmate medical bills," Warner said. "If they are in our custody, we are responsible for their care."

Before November, the jail was anticipating a rebate from its insurance carrier. But then caring for just three inmates pushed the budget into unusual territory, Johnston said.

Two of the large medical bills were for inmates who needed treatment for "alcohol problems that led to other health-related problems," Warner said.

Warner estimated the health care those two inmates received cost his office about $33,000.

The rest of the overrun stemmed from the care received by an inmate who attempted to commit suicide inside the jail.

Jared Wayne Maynard, 20, hanged himself in a cellblock Oct. 29 and died two days later at a Denver hospital.

"This is the first time that I can remember that we had three catastrophic illnesses that forced us to dip into our supplemental fund," said Warner, who was elected in 1994.

To cover the cost of the medical bills, Routt County officials plan on drafting a supplemental budget for the sheriff's office, said Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak.

On Tuesday, Warner met with Stahoviak and the other two commissioners to discuss the medical bills.

Warner has received a quote from a Denver insurance company, Marsh, that provides catastrophic insurance coverage.

That insurance, Warner said, would cover inmates who suffer from heart failure, heart attacks, leukemia, diabetes, breast cancer, broken bones or self-inflicted wounds.

The plan Warner is looking into would cost the county about $600 per month, or about $7,200 a year.

"It is coverage over and above what we have for catastrophic injuries," Warner said.

After Tuesday's meeting with Warner, the county commissioners gave Warner the go ahead to further research the insurance offered by Marsh.

"They will come back to us for a recommendation for any supplemental insurance we may need," Stahoviak said.

Warner said he believes he will be able to submit a recommendation to the commissioners in about six weeks.

The sheriff will try to get other counties involved in purchasing the catastrophic insurance. He said he is optimistic the premium for the insurance could be lowered if a group of counties approached the insurance company.

"I think we would be better going in as a group than sheriff office by sheriff office," he said.

The cost of medical bills comes at a time when officials within the sheriff's office are being proactive in keeping health care liability for the county at a minimum, Johnston said.

"We are doing a lot better job than we have ever done before in watchdogging inmate medical expenses," he said. "We try to make the inmate pay for the medical care so the county does not have to. We now ask for their insurance cards."

Johnston said he is hoping the county will purchase the additional health care coverage.

"Our whole focus of this insurance is to save the taxpayer money," he said. "That is the focus of this."

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