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Jail nurse on duty to treat inmates, save county money

A wracking cough, sleepness nights, taxed sinuses or even smalldoses of pain used to signal a visit to the doctor for inmates atthe Lincoln County Jail.

Now, however, most minor ailments can be treated at the facilityby a nurse, saving the county the expense of a doctor’s visit whileproviding quality medical care to the inmate, said Lincoln CountySheriff Steve Rushing.

Nurse Lori Doss was hired in early November to treat minorailments at the jail and to screen the number of inmates makingdoctor’s visits. The county is responsible for the medical care ofthe inmates in its charge, and those expenses can add up quickly,Rushing said.

For example, in the two months Doss has been working at thejail, 58 requests to see a doctor have been filed at the jail. Eachvisit cost the county between $90 and $125, he said. At an averageof $100 per visit, the requests would have cost the jail$5,800.

However, because Doss was able to treat many of those minorailments, he said only five were actually transported to thedoctor’s office, saving the county an estimated $5,300 in doctor’sfees.

“There really isn’t any major illnesses here,” Doss said. “Wehave the occasional diabetic, some hypertension or not being ableto sleep, but I have not, so far, had to deal with any majormedical incidents.”

The most common complaints, she said, result from rashes, coldsand other viral infections and teeth aches.

Doss said she does a medical work-up each time an inmate files adoctor’s request. The work-up includes an interview and bloodpressure check.

“It’s like a triage situation when you go to the emergencyroom,” she said. “I do the work-up and then consult with the doctoron every patient.”

It’s the doctor, she said, who decides if he wants to see theinmates himself or let Doss treat them.

The inmates can, however, request to bypass Doss if they are notsatisfied with her treatment, she said, but that has not happenedyet.

Ken Whittington, a trusty at the jail, praised the program.

“They take good care of us here,” he said. “It’s a lot betternow than it was.”

Whittington, a diabetic, was taking medication for extreme highblood pressure when he was arrested. The medication was notworking, he said, because his body had adapted to it. He was ableto change his medication and gain better control of his conditionthrough the nursing program. He said Doss monitors him regularly toensure his condition does not worsen.

Doss works at the jail Monday, Wednesday and Friday morningsbefore reporting to her full-time job at Lincoln ResidentialCenter. However, she is always on call to report to the jail shouldshe be needed, she said.

Rushing said he would like to claim the idea of hiring a nurseto cut jail medical expenses, but it was really administrators atother jails who recommended the practice.

“This came about because there wasn’t really a set medicalpolicy,” he said. “When we tried to get our state inmates back,(the Mississippi Department of Corrections) wanted us to have apolicy.”

A policy did exist under the previous administration that saideach inmate had access to medical care, Rushing said, but MDOCofficials wanted a more specific plan. State inmates were removedfrom the jail in August during an investigation of the jail underthe previous administration and began to return in late Septemberafter Rushing was appointed sheriff and made changes suggested bythe state corrections department.

In fiscal year 2005-2006 and 2006-2007, the jail budget to covermedical expenses for county inmates was $20,000. The county isreimbursed by MDOC for those expenses on state inmates.

Rushing said he believes when the supervisors meet in July andAugust to set the 2007-2008 budget, they will be able to allocateless funding to the jail medical expense fund.

The budget also includes $10,000 for inmate medications. Thatamount will not likely change, he said.

In addition to saving money on medical fees, the nurse programalso saves officers and jailers time they would have spenttransporting and supervising the inmate at the doctor’s office.