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MetroHealth seeks $25 million extension of Cuyahoga County Jail medical services contract

MetroHealth is a publicly subsidized hospital system in Cuyahoga County.

MetroHealth Hospital is seeking an additional $25 million to continue providing medical services at the Cuyahoga County Jail through January 2025. The ask, made during a Cuyahoga County Council public safety committee meeting Tuesday, left council asking for more oversight of the next provider.

Councilmember Dale Miller said Tuesday council needs to do more to audit the health care being provided.

“We’re spending a huge amount of money, and I think the oversight is fairly minimal,” Miller said.

MetroHealth began providing health care services at the jail in 2019, following a series of deaths partially attributed to a lack medical attention for people coming into the facility.

In 2022, council extended that contract extension for two years at $30 million. The current, proposed $25 million extension would cover the next nine months.

Before it ends, on Jan. 31, 2025, the county will have issued a new request for proposals for a medical provider at the jail and, ideally, signed a new contract.

One change council is hoping for in the new contract is to have a doctor or physician’s assistant on duty 24 hours a day, said Councilmember Michael Gallagher, who chairs the safety committee.

Councilmembers also focused on transport of detainees from the jail to MetroHealth facilities for treatment. According to Gallagher, the runs largely occur during nights, weekends and on holidays, when only nurses are on duty.

“The reality is a nurse isn’t going to take it upon herself to make the call to keep them at the jail and treat them there,” Gallagher said. “If there’s a gray area, she or he is going to send them to Metro to be safe.”

The county can’t tell why people are being transported to medical facilities instead of receiving treatment at the jail or what sorts of injuries or illnesses are being treated most often and at what cost because MetroHealth doesn’t share that information with the county.

“I just get the number of transports and put a calculation of cost to that,” said Donna Kaleal from the Sheriff’s Department. “But as for if they’re leaving for a broken arm or a cut or a gunshot wound, I don’t have that access as to why.”

According to Aisha Parnell of MetroHealth the cost of caring for people at the jail has risen as the jail's population has increased since the end of the pandemic and because the medical needs of people being held there have been more serious than MetroHealth anticipated.

“We do as much onsite as we possibly can,” said Parnell, who also pointed to rising health care costs overall.

County councilmembers said they hope the next contract will include the opportunity to audit the health care issues being treated in the jail and at offsite facilities.

The proposed extension goes to the full council next for approval.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.