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Inmates' medical care excedes budget

The cost of providing medical care to inmates at the McDuffie County Law Enforcement Center in Thomson already has exceeded the 2010 budget. Thus far, such costs have surpassed $150,000 -- more than $60,000 above what was budgeted for this entire year for medical and pharmaceutical costs at the jail, The McDuffie Mirror has learned.

Sheriff Logan Marshall met with county commissioners to discuss the problem and to see what could be worked out during a county government work session on Feb. 1.

"We're in trouble," said McDuffie County Manager Don Norton. "Already, we've exceeded this year's medical and prescription costs for inmates."

Commissioners had budgeted $87,000 for such medical costs this year.

In 2009, commissioners budgeted $80,000 for inmate medical and prescription costs, but the actual figure was $127,000, according to Commissioner Paul McCorkle.

One reason for the costs exceeding the budget is that the jail houses an inmate with a serious medical condition. That inmate recently was indicted by a county grand jury, but remains behind bars pending his being released on bond or having his case disposed of through the judicial process. At least two of the large medical bills the county has received recently relate to that inmate.

Such costs climb even higher if the current jail physician decides to stop seeing inmates. Last year, another doctor stopped seeing inmates because of higher malpractice insurance premiums.

"Our present doctor has been mighty nice," said Sheriff Marshall. "I just don't know how much longer he might be there."

It's getting more difficult for doctors to agree to treat inmates at jails in Georgia, said Sheriff Marshall, who serves as president of the Georgia Sheriff's Association and hears from other sheriffs across the state with similar problems.

"I need all the help I can get concerning this matter," Sheriff Marshall told commissioners. "This is a matter that can't wait, because it's a liability."

The sheriff is responsible for providing medical care and medicines to all inmates housed at the county law enforcement center. The medical and dental care has to be afforded inmates on a 24-hour emergency basis.

Commission Chairman Charlie Newton said he'd like to have time to study what the best fix to this problem might be.

Web posted on Thursday, February 11, 2010

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