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Wednesday, March 10, 2004


Jail may get in-house medical service

County could save up to $50,000 per year

"In jail, your job is not to make the inmate happy. It is your job to treat them."

JEFF KELLER, Physician with Badger Medicine

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County could save up to $50,000 a year if it changes the way its jail provides medical care to inmates.

Following a presentation from an Idaho Falls-based company on Monday, March 8, Blaine County Commissioners said they would consider contracting for in-house medical services for the county’s inmates.

"The bottom line is that Blaine County is paying way, way too much for jail medical and mental health," said Dr. Jeff Keller, an emergency physician who is undergoing a mid-career job change.

In 1997, Keller said he grudgingly agreed to contract with the Bonneville County Jail for medical services for a period of one year.

"Low and behold, I liked it," he said. With help from his wife, Angela Keller, Badger Medicine was born.

Since 1997, Badger Medicine has landed a total of four correctional institutions as clients. The Blaine County Jail would be the fifth.

According to Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling, the Blaine County Jail spent $74,000 in the 2003 calendar year on medicine for its inmates.

"Every year we have gone over our budget," he said.

According to Keller, Badger Medicine could provide medical services to the Blaine County Jail for about $50,000 during the first year and $24,000 each subsequent year. The savings are achieved, in part, by bringing doctors and nurses to the jail, rather than taking inmates to family physicians.

"For almost everything we do, we bring the medical and mental health to the jail," Keller said.

Keller also said learning how to deal with inmates, as opposed to paying customers, is something that can produce savings—and also better medicine.

"You have to learn how to say ‘no’ a lot," he said. "In jail, your job is not to make the inmate happy. It is your job to treat them. The end result is, in a lot of ways, we practice better medicine than people in the community get."

As an example, he said he would not over-prescribe antibiotics to inmates.

Another source of savings would come from prescription drugs, Keller said. Blaine County currently pays $1.50 per day, per inmate for prescription drugs. Keller said he could cut that by a third.

County commissioners said the proposal was intriguing and agreed to discuss the matter with an attorney.

"I think it has some merit," said Commission Chairman Dennis Wright.

Keller said he could be up and running at the jail by April 1, if he is given a green light.


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