Wright County approves switching jail medical contract

By John Holler

Contributing Writer

Over the years, few costs associated with running county government have been more annoying to the Wright County Board of Commissioners than its responsibility to cover jail medical expenses for prisoners at the Wright County Jail. A single prisoner is capable of racking up tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. At the Oct. 22 meeting of the county board, the commissioners approved a proposal to switch the county’s jail medical contract, which has a starting base cost of more than $200,000 a year.

Jail Administrator Pat O’Malley brought the proposal to the board, which would switch the county’s jail medical contract from Allina the Waite Park-based firm MEnD. O’Malley stated that the contract would be something that, in the end, will save the county thousands of dollars a year.

“Allina decided not to continue its contract with the county earlier this year,” O’Malley said. “As a result, we had to go looking for a new vendor for the contract. We believe the benefit we will get from MEnD will be favorable to the county and provide a strong level of service for less money.”

Under the current contract, Wright County paid a base contract of $240,457 for 2013 – an increase of 17 percent from the original contract signed in 2011. Under the new contract, the 2014 base cost will be $217,600 with a scheduled 2 percent increase in each of the final two years of the contract, which O’Malley said would provide the county with more budgeting stability than it had under the previous agreement.

“With the Allina contract, we knew there would be annual increases, but we wouldn’t find out until January just how much that would be,” O’Malley said. “With the new contract, we will have a fixed contract that we will know the amount of from one year to the next. Seeing as the current contract increased 17 percent over the last three years, the county will see a cost savings this year, as well as the remaining two years of the contract beyond 2014.”

MEnD has been providing jail medical services since 2008 and provides jail medical contracts for 11 Minnesota county jails. The board unanimously approved contracting with MEnD for the three-year term of the agreement.

In other items on the Oct. 22 agenda, the board:

VOTED to allow department heads, in consultation with the county’s human resources director, to hire new job candidates up to Step 3 on the county’s pay scale. Similar wording was in the county’s hiring protocol for years, but, when the economy took a downturn in 2008, the board changed the language of the policy to insist that new employees being hired at Step 1 of their respective job pay scales as a way of balancing the county’s budgets. The revision to the rule will allow the county to be more competitive in offering salary packages to prospective employees.

AUTHORIZED revisions to the county’s personnel policy concerning smoking by county employees on county-owned property. The changes involved the inclusion of e-cigarettes as being tobacco use.

APPROVED County Surveyor Steve Jobe to prepare bid documents for aerial photography of the county in 2014. Typically, the county updates its aerial photography every three years and $75,000 has been budgeted for that in 2014. The county is planning on bidding along with Stearns and Sherburne counties in hopes of getting a price break on the cost of the flyovers.

Introduced Jacqueline Schmidt as the county’s new supervisor of elections.

APPROVED a contract between the county and agricultural inspector Erik Heuring. The contract will run through Dec. 31, 2014 and will pay monthly installments of $1,100.

SCHEDULED a closed session of the board to discuss labor negotiation strategies for 10:30 a.m. following the Nob. 5 board meeting.

ACKNOWLEDGED receipt of the letter of resignation from Human Services Director Jay Kieft, effective Nov. 15, and authorized beginning the recruitment process of selecting a replacement.

APPROVED a five-year maintenance agreement with Hennepin County for three bridges the two counties share. – a contract that will run through the end of 2018.

APPOINTED Jeffrey Golden of Corinna Township as the newest member of the Clearwater River Watershed District. Golden will serve out the remainder of the term of a CRWD member who announced his resignation earlier this year. Golden’s term will run through August 2015.

SET a transportation committee of the whole meeting for 1 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19.