BEULAH — Starting in October, inmates in the Benzie County Jail will have their medications delivered by a nurse who will visit twice a day, seven days a week.
The jail now has a nurse visiting just two or three times a week.
“When they’re not available our officers have to do it,” said Kyle Rosa, undersheriff.
“And we’re not medical people,” added Sheriff Ted Schendel.
The new program is run by Dr. Michelle Kuster, a former emergency room physician who founded the All Access Care medical clinic in 2013 in Ludington. The All Access jail program is already in use at the Mason and Manistee county jails.
Kuster said many inmates have mental health or substance abuse issues and jails end up being detox centers. Under Kuster’s program, inmates are seen when they are admitted to jail and then once or twice a week by her, a physician assistant or nurse practitioner.
“What that allows us to do is better stabilize the inmates,” Kuster said. “It’s important that we are aggressive and are able to assess them and give them the medications they need.
“It is our job to keep them safe and if they are detoxing we medically manage that. It’s important not to have any gaps in the system.”
Benzie will pay $134,000 annually for the All Access Care program. The jail currently contracts for health services with the Illinois-based Advanced Correctional Healthcare (ACH) at a cost of $118,000 per year.
Schendel said there are a lot of extra costs that go along with the ACH contract, such as any time an inmate needs to leave the jail to visit a doctor or hospital.
The All Access program is more expensive up front, but because inmates are seen sooner and more often, they will not need as much outside care, Schendel said. That will cut costs, he said.
“Overall the program is much better for our inmates,” Schendel said. “We’re excited to get this going.”
The Record-Eagle has reported multiple instances of inmates at the Grand Traverse County jail saying they are not getting their prescribed medications for physical and mental health conditions they are being treated for.
Health care is contracted through the Nashville-based Wellpath.
Many inmates are on Medicaid when they come into jail, but under a federal law, lose their insurance when they are locked up. When they get out they have to reapply, a process that can leave them without health care for weeks or months, said Dan Smith, jail administrator.
“It’s just a terrible thing to do to people, to have them lose their insurance,” Smith said.
It also places a financial burden on county jail budgets across the state, as health care has become their largest expense.
“The cost of health care continues to go up and more and more people who are incarcerated have health care needs, whether it be substance abuse or mental health issues,” Schendel said.
The jail also uses TelePsyche, a mental health service in which inmates can talk one-on-one with a clinician for an evaluation done online.
“We’re pretty progressive,” Smith said.
Kuster also runs Connexion Point, which offers medication assisted treatment (MAT) and an intensive outpatient program to treat people with addiction.
Someone from that program will visit the jail about once a week and if an inmate is ready to recover and reaches out, a plan is put in place for when they are released.
Many times they’ll get out and if they’re not managed will begin to use drugs again, Kuster said.
Schendel said the program gives people a chance to have recovery when they leave the jail, with the goal of reducing recidivism.
“We want people to succeed in life,” Schendel said. “We have to weigh that with our responsibility to protect law-abiding citizens.”