by Darren Doyle:
Edmonson County Jailer Hank Vincent expressed his frustrations to the fiscal court with what he calls a "broken system" as Edmonson County government seems to continually be on the hook for thousands of dollars in medical bills for county inmates, some of which Vincent feels shouldn't be the county's responsibility. Vincent shared more information with us after today's fiscal court meeting.
"Last night we had an inmate at the Hart County Jail that fell and sustained injuries to his face and head," Vincent said. "He was taken to the emergency room and they're now looking to see if he needs a surgeon. He's in jail for a state parole violation. We're talking about thousands of dollars in medical bills here. We're not saying the inmate didn't need medical attention, but according to his charges, he should be classified as a state inmate, not a county."
Vincent said he has a great working relationship with Hart County Jailer Israel Bergenson and that the jail has been good to Vincent's office and Edmonson County. He feels like the problem lies within red tape associated with delayed paperwork or simple missed details. He said the status of last night's inmate was changed to a state inmate today, but since the classification was county last night when the event occurred, the county must pay.
He also gave an example of another inmate from a few weeks ago that already suffered from various health problems. "Here's an inmate that had joint and mobile problems anyway," Vincent said. "The inmate stumbled and fell and was sent to the emergency room, underwent a Cat Scan, and I believe had some drug testing. The total bill was $4,383, which was dropped to the Medicare rate of about $3300. All this time she should've been classified as a state inmate, according to her charges, but the system said she's a county inmate."
The fiscal court voted to put the bill on hold until the correct classification of the inmate could be verified.
Vincent said there are also paper trails between the court and jail systems and that there are multiple possibilities of mix-ups, but until those mix-ups are found and remedied, the county is at the mercy of the system.
Another frustrating issue is that jailers also have to often baby-sit inmates as they're transported to hospitals, most of the time for bogus reasons. The manpower, fuel, and time costs are additional expenses that have to come from an already strapped jailer's budget. Vincent said he's even heard inmates bragging about how they plan on being admitted to a hospital when in fact, there was nothing wrong with them.
"We also have inmates that do nothing but abuse the system," he said. "We had a thirty-something year-old male who was in good health that all the sudden grabbed his chest and complained of chest pains. There wasn't a thing wrong with him. As a deputy jailer was putting him in the car, the inmate just flopped on the ground and said his arms were broken. Well, he had to go to the hospital and have an X-Ray. Of course, there wasn't anything wrong with him and they sent him home."
Vincent said rather than pointing a finger at the jail, the focus should be on the system.
"Every jail system has their own set of policies and practices when it comes to medical concerns and there's a liability issue there," he said. "I think things could be simpler if there was a state-wide policy or something that spells these things out. It's a very difficult situation."
Some have argued that if Edmonson County had a jail, some of these problems could be eliminated.
"Even if we had a jail, we'd still have to send some of these inmates to the hospital. It's just the way it is," he said. "I'm not sure where you can pinpoint these problems other than the inmates themselves. The red tape is what it is, and the county will continue to have to pay these bills until something major changes."