County agrees on provider for inmate medical care at Bartholomew County Jail

Local taxpayers might question paying nearly $1 million a year to provide jail inmates housed in Columbus with medical care.

But alternatives could be far more expensive, according to Bartholomew County Commissioners chairman Larry Kleinhenz.

Following the county council’s funding approval on June 10, the commissioners approved signing an 18-month contract with Quality Correctional Care (QCC) of Carmel to provide around-the-clock medical services at the jail.

Funding from July 1st through the end of this year will cost a maximum $474,512, while QCC will charge $996,476 next year.

That is substantially more than the $200,000 taxpayers were paying Advanced Correctional Healthcare (ACH) of Franklin, Tennessee when they first offered jail medical services in 2006. But the next year, ACH raised their price up to $223,000, with similar hikes happening periodically over the next 17 years.

In 2006, the inmate population ranged from 160 to 205. Today, it’s often close to 300, Sheriff Chris Lane said.

“It seems that since COVID actually happened, we just don’t have a very healthy inmate population,” Lane told the commissioners. “It has become obvious that we really need to expand our medical care.”

Currently ACH supervises licensed practical nurses who provide 104 nursing hours during established hours on weekdays. In contrast, QCC will double the amount of time by providing 208 nursing hours on a 24/7 basis, Lane said.

“We really need nursing staff there every day,” the sheriff said. “It’s just as important to have medical staff there at 2 a.m. than it is at two in the afternoon.”

In addition, the Carmel firm has agreed to provide a full-time registered nurse to oversee the LPNs, as well as a part-time electronic medical records keeper, Lane said.

When ACH was asked how much they would charge to provide the same services being offered by QCC, the Tennessee company made a bid of $1,072,857. That’s 7% higher than what the Carmel firm was quoting.

Nevertheless, commissioner Carl Lienhoop did not seem pleased as he broke down the numbers and noted county taxpayers will be paying $79,085 a month to provide inmates with medical care.

“Well, like it or not, the law is what the law is,” Kleinhenz said. “When we have people in our jail, we have to take care of them.”

But there’s another major concern, according to both Lane and Kleinhenz — liability.

The commissioners’ chairman made a reference to last December, which Jackson County government agreed to a $7.25 million settlement to resolve federal civil rights lawsuits filed by the surviving relative of an inmate. Joshua McLemore, 29, died in 2021 after spending 20 days in solitary confinement in the Jackson County Jail.

“We want to be careful with taxpayer money concerning threats of liability, but we certainly need to be aware of what has been experienced in neighboring counties,” Kleinhenz said.

Bartholomew County isn’t alone in preferring QCC, which currently provides medical services to 71 other county jails in Indiana, according to Lane.

“I think that speak volumes,” the sheriff said.

In addition to the medical services, Bartholomew County will continue its current practice of providing 40 hours of mental health care to inmates each week, he said.