The county Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the five-year agreement with Nashville-based Wellpath on Tuesday after Assistant Sheriff Rob Davidson outlined planned improvements in patient care.
The contract, which takes effect July 1, will cost $17.7 million in the first year. The pact is expected to go up to around $18 million in succeeding years to account for inflation.
Among the highlights:
- Medical, dental and mental health staff will grow to 74, up about 25% since last July. Fifteen of those jobs were added Tuesday in the board’s budget for the next fiscal year that begins Friday. The additional staff are needed for the operation of a health care unit at the Todd Road Jail near Santa Paula, which is due to open early next year.
- Availability of mental health care from licensed clinicians will expand from 16 hours a day to around the clock at the main jail in Ventura and roughly double to 16 hours a day at the Todd Road Jail.
- Wellpath must pay penalties if it does not meet standards for patient care spelled out in the contract. For example, the company must pay the county $1,500 every time a patient showing symptoms is not evaluated by a mental health professional within 24 hours of arrival at jail.
- One-on-one counseling will be provided to inmates, in keeping with a statewide trend.
- Responsibility for continuous monitoring of suicidal inmates will be shifted from security staff to medical staff.
Davidson said the contract represents a major improvement in the quality of care for mentally ill inmates.
“In our jails, I’ll be honest, we do medical (care) really, really well,” he told the board. “Our challenge is in the mental health arena. We really truly feel the mental health area is what is driving some of our recidivism.”
Public Defender Claudia Bautista, whose office represents many of the inmates, said she supported the intent of the sheriff’s plan.
“Will it work? I don’t know,” she said in an interview Friday. “What has been done in the past isn’t working.”
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