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Cost savings prompt Swain to outsource inmate health care

Swain County is outsourcing medical care for inmates at the county jail to an independent firm that specializes in the niche field of health care for prisoners, and move the county hopes could save several thousand dollars a year.

The county currently spends between $105,000 and $150,000 on health care for its inmates each year. The new contract with Southern Health Partners could mean a savings of $20,000 annually.


“We are just trying to look out for the taxpayers of Swain County,” said Sheriff Curtis Cochran, who presented the agreement to the Swain Board of Commissioners last week.

Counties are financially on the hook for all health care expenses of inmates who are in jail awaiting trial, from medication to doctor’s visits to dental care. Escalating costs have increasingly led counties to outsource with large firms that specialize in jail health care.

Currently, the Swain jail has two agreements, one for a certified nursing assistant and another with Carolina Mountain Medical to provide a doctor. The new contract will consolidate all its health care needs and expenses into one agreement.

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“This is kind of all inclusive,” said County Manager Kevin King.

The contract with South Health Partners includes the services of a registered nurse to care for inmates. However, Cochran hopes that the jail will be able to keep the same doctor and nurse who have worked with the prison for years.

“It is going to be up to them (South Health Partners) really who they hire, but that is the hope,” Cochran said.

The new contract, which will take effect within the next 30 days, will also provide the county with insurance, which lowers the risk of being held legally liable in the event that something happened to one of its inmates.

The next year will act as a trial run for the county and South Health Partners. If all goes well, then county leaders could decide to renew the contract for a longer period of time.

“We are going to try it for a year and see how it benefits us,” Cochran said.

Southern Health Partners manages medical care for inmates at 190 jails and prisons in 13 states. About half of North Carolina’s 100 counties, including Haywood County, contract with the firm.

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