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Inmate Healthcare Costs: KD Investigates Gets Results

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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) — In the early morning hours, sheriff deputies deliver an inmate to a methadone clinic in Homewood — a trip they make about 20 times a month — at taxpayer expense.

Sheriff bill Mullen thinks that’s wrong.

“It’s a big burden and I think we should at least look at to see if there’s a cheaper way of doing business,” he said.

The meth clinic trips are all part of the $12 million per year taxpayers spend on inmate medical care. While most are attended to inside the jail clinic, about $3 million is spent on outside treatment at the meth clinic and area hospitals.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald says it’s time to rein in those costs.

“We’re going to take a look at reducing those costs because you’re right it’s unacceptable,” he said.

In these meth runs, the county pays for treatment, sheriff deputies and two corrections officers to stand guard. Mullen thinks money could be saved if the meth was dispensed inside the jail.

“It would relieve the burden on the operation of the jail and the sheriff’s office and relieve the taxpayers,” he said.

Another cost savings idea is telemedicine — where inmates would be examined by outside physicians over closed circuit television — in many cases eliminating the need for outside treatment.

“We’ve wanted to have telemedicine for some time,” Medical Director Dana Phillips said. “The county did not invest in that technology.”

But while Phillips says there’s never been any money for telemedicine, Fitzgerald says funds were appropriated by county council.

“They didn’t buy the equipment,” Fitzgerald said. “They ended up spending the money on something else.”

Fitzgerald says he will fulfill the county’s obligation to give the inmates medical care, but at a far lesser cost and at a greater savings to the taxpayer.

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