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Inmate health care cost called 'shocking'

Len Lazarick, The Examiner 2007-08-22 07:00:00.0 Current rank: # 134 of 6,515 Annapolis - Taxpayers dole out $5,000 for every prisoner’s health care each year — and lawyers representing the state’s 26,000 prisoners told state legislators Tuesday that it’s not nearly enough. “We get hundreds of phone calls” every year complaining about lack of care or medication, said Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore, co-chair of the Joint Audit Committee, which held a hearing on prison health care. “It’s a huge problem.” Legislative auditor Timothy Brooks, who led a team reviewing the agency’s two-year-old contracts with five different medical contractors, told lawmakers that “significantly more monitoring and oversight is needed” to ensure that health providers were performing as promised. But Brooks said corrections officials “had a genuine interest in getting this done right.” Sally Dworak-Fisher, a lawyer for the Public Justice Center, asked lawmakers to order another audit of the medical contractors, which were paid almost $130 million in fiscal 2007. Dworak-Fisher cited several recent examples at the state-run Baltimore City Detention Center in which inmates received the wrong medication and failed to receive care days or weeks after they reported an illness. “I don’t know why you need an audit to find out that you need to oversee a contract,” said Sen. Rona Kramer, D-Montgomery, one of several senators and delegates who questioned corrections officials closely. The health and safety violations found by the U.S. Justice Department go back to 1971. Last January, the state signed an agreement with Justice to resolve violations related to inmate medical care in four years. Public Safety Secretary Gary Maynard said he would not be opposed to more audits. Before he took the job this year, Maynard had run the prisons in Iowa, Oklahoma and South Carolina, all of which managed their own health care services. He was stunned at Maryland’s contracts and their “shocking” costs. “I’m trying to make the system work,” he said. “The quality of care is good but it is also very expensive,” Maynard said. He has made surprise visits to care facilities and met with health providers. “I have assured them that we’re going to hold their feet to the fire,” he said, and make sure “we’re getting what we paid for.” By the Numbers » Inmates in Maryland Prisons: 26,000 » Total health care costs (fiscal year 2007): $129.4 million » Average cost per inmate: $5,000 » Increase in costs since 2005: 86 percent Source: State audit llazarick@baltimoreexaminer.com Examiner

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