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Ravalli Co. signs contract for inmate health care

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HAMILTON, Mont. - Ravalli County commissioners signed a contract with a Ravalli County health care provider to serve the medical needs of detention center inmates for at least 90 days.

The contract with the current vendor ends June 30. That vendor notified commissioners in December it would be ending services in Ravalli County.

On Thursday commissioners signed a contract with Sapphire Community Health to provide service from July 1 through Sept. 30.

In the meantime the county must solicit other vendors to see if they are interested. The county has been reaching out to providers for months. There have been no takers.

Without in-house health care the detention center often transfers inmates to the emergency room, which is extremely expensive.

At first the nonprofit Sapphire was reluctant to take on the specialized role. The county will pay about $127,000 for three months of the clinic's service. If the local provider continues its service after September it will cost the county more than $500,000. That's almost twice what the county is paying for the current vendor's services, which end in June.

But Sapphire will provide 28 hours more nursing staff a week than is currently provided.

"We'll find the money," said Commissioner Greg Chilcott. "We have no choice. We have to provide this service to our detainees. We'll either have to cut services or reduce services. But we will find the money. Jail standards require it. It's a requirement by law."

The commissioner said many inmates have "co-occuring disorders. We have mental health issues and substance abuse problems," he said, "and what some would say are health problems from riskier lifestyles. It creates a different sort of care and assessment by medical professionals."

"Someone needs to do it," said Sapphire Community Health nurse practitioner Susan Reynolds. "We're helping to provide a service for the community, for the inmates, and we'll be able to provide quality care for them."

Sapphire staff is currently training with outgoing health care workers who provide care for inmates in the detention center.

Sapphire's chief executive officer Janet Woodburn said "providing medicine in a detention center requires nurses and providers to have specialized training under Department of Corrections guidelines."

Woodburn said the clinic is in the process of hiring additional staff.

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