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SLO County supervisors vote to privatize jail health care

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to outsource medical and mental health care services at the San Luis Obispo County Jail Tuesday.

Privatized health care is coming to the SLO County Jail.

“This is a program that could achieve better results and better patient health care if it’s contracted out at a lesser cost to the county,” said District 4 Supervisor, Lynn Compton.

This comes on the heels of newly released data that ranks the inmate death rate at the County Jail, the sixth highest in the state.

The jail also remains under FBI investigation for civil rights violations in connection to recent inmate deaths.

Despite the shift, several members of the board made it clear that the county is not trying to duck responsibility.

“I think I could speak on behalf of the rest of the board, we do not in any way seek to relieve ourselves of the larger moral liability,” said Adam Hill, District 3 Supervisor.

“This is something that we have to retain ownership of for the long term and that’s not just a year, or two years, three years, or five years. This is something that we need to take to heart and we have to except, more changes are coming, with the end of cash bail,” said Bruce Gibson, District 12 Supervisor.

The SLO County Sheriff’s Office Chief Medical Officer says outsourcing medical, mental and dental services will provide a higher quality of care in a faster way.

“I would say that the negative publicity put the jail under a microscope and made it a big priority for the Board of Supervisors and for the county and so as we have looked at the jail as a whole, we have looked at all sorts of ways that we can make things better,” said Dr. Christy Mulkerin, Chief Medical Officer for the San Luis Obispo County Jail.

Tuesday’s decision comes in the wake of several high profile inmate deaths in the County Jail, including the controversial passing of Andrew Holland.

“We’ve had some real tragedy for a long time, how can we assure that’s not going to happen with the outsourcing team,” said Carty Holland, Andrew Holland’s father.

Andrew’s dad took to the podium at the SLO County Government Center, addressing Sheriff Ian Parkinson directly.

“You have got to look at the root problem if you’re going to do that. Every single inmate, mentally ill or otherwise, has to be treated as if they’re people that are made in the image of God,” said Holland.

While the grieving father has mixed emotions about the health care move, the Chief Medical Officer admits the impact to staff was a difficult to make.

“The hardest part about this decision is the staff, the impacts on the staff. We have 24 permanent staff members at the jail and they are impacted in that these positions will no longer be county positions at the jail,” said Mulkerin.

Mulkerin hopes the impacted staff will consider signing on with the new contractors.

The transition from county to private company will take close to six months. Mulkerin says it will take about three months for the contract to be finalized, followed by a 90 day grace period during the passing of the baton, so to speak.

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