SNOW HILL — A growing prison population has finally exceeded Worcester County’s ability to provide mental health care to inmates, prompting officials to bring in a private agency.
Currently, mental health services for the county jail are handled by the Worcester County Health Department (WCHD) and have been for many years. However, according to Health Officer Debbie Goeller, funding has remained static for more than a decade, while the prison population has increased significantly, making it difficult for WCHD to keep up.
“The health department simply cannot sustain that,” said Goeller during a meeting with the Worcester County Commissioners last Tuesday.
Warden Garry Mumford agreed, writing in a letter, “Unfortunately, we have noticed a substantial margin in service needed and service delivered.”
Mumford noted that the Core Agency grant, which provides funding for the jail’s mental health program, is intended to service 80 new patients per year, “but as of today’s date the program has provided 240 consults at the jail.”
With both Mumford and Goeller concerned that the WCHD can’t keep up with the current funding, they recommended that the commission contract Conmed, an agency who already provides primary health services to the jail, to take over mental care as well.
“They’re able to provide 24-hour, seven-day-a-week coverage,” said Goeller.
County attorney Sonny Bloxom weighed in on the proposal, pointing out that Conmed would bring a lot to the table.
“It’s a very comprehensive scheme of services they’re putting together for the jail,” he said.
While mental care must be provided under state mandate, the cost of using Conmed did raise a few eyebrows. At an annual cost of $150,000, the service will impact the county budget, even after the WCHD refunds $27,000 that it would have used to provide mental care. Mumford added that he felt there is a strong possibility the jail will also be able to receive $25,000 from the Core Agency grant, potentially leaving the final cost for the county around $100,000.
Commissioner Judy Boggs asked if there were any other agencies that might put in competing bids.
“I’m just always happier when I have a comparison of prices,” she said.
Chief Administrative Officer Gerald Mason explained, however, that Conmed is more or less the only game in town.
Facing limited choices and a definite need, the commission decided to approve the contract with Conmed.