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KD Investigates: The Cost Of Inmate Healthcare

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(Photo Credit: KDKA)

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

Andy Sheehan Andy Sheehan
KDKA-TV Investigator Andy Sheehan began his broadcast journalism...
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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — They’re behind bars, but prisoners at the Allegheny County Jail are getting some of the best medical treatment in the world, and you’re picking up the tab — about $12 million a year.

“To be treated better than the taxpayers that are footing the bill isn’t fair,” said County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

While most inmates are treated here in the jail’s clinic — taxpayers shell out about $3 million a year for procedures performed outside — in the best Pittsburgh hospitals.

“It’s almost doubled,” Sheriff Bill Mullen said.

Mullen says the cost of transporting those inmates falls to his department.

Deputies transported an inmate to a methadone clinic in Homewood — a trip they make at least 20 times a month. But most of their trips are to hospitals where they have to stand armed guards–sometimes for days at a time. Just last year the sheriff’s costs jumped from $260,000 to $480,000.

“Every hour they’re in the hospital we’ll have a deputy watch them and that’s why our costs are so high and it’s frustrating because we have no control over that,” Mullen said.

“I think it’s reasonable to look at costs,” County Jail Medical Director Dana Phillips said. “There are always ways to do things better.”

The nonprofit that holds the jail’s medical contract says it would like to do more procedures in house but some of those costs are out of their hands.

“When we have a woman in active labor, we have no choice but to send her out,” she said.

Our review found serious procedures like heart surgery and chemotherapy — but also seemingly minor things like itches and rashes and in one case a prolonged erection, which Dr. Michael Patterson said is not laughing matter.

“The patient wouldn’t find that humorous and actually that’s considered a medical emergency,” jail clinic physician Dr. Michael Patterson said.

KDKA’s Andy Sheehan: Some people would say since they’re inmates here they’re going top flight hospitals getting some of the best care I the world here in city of Pittsburgh.

“Well we are where we are,” Patterson said. “We’re not in Podunk or an area that does not have access to care and the charge is to give them the level of care of the community we reside in.”

Still Fitzgerald is looking for new proposals from other medical providers.

“We are spending too much money,” he said.

That review will take place and the entire medical operation will be evaluated to see if care can be provided the inmates and relief can come to the taxpayer.

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