OGDEN — Shooting suspect Matthew Stewart is back in Weber County Jail after an extended hospital visit for emergency surgery, and county officials are bracing for the bill.
“Most insurance companies won’t cover the effects of incarceration or apprehension, which is a polite way of saying if you get shot by the cops, your HMO isn’t going to deal with you,” Weber Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Klint Anderson said.
Once inmates are jailed, the county is typically liable for their medical costs, officials said, and with Stewart’s death penalty case, it could be a long run. Given the seriousness of the charge, appellate courts expect a heightened response from defense attorneys, which can delay trial for years.
Stewart is charged in the Jan. 4 shootout at his Ogden home with officers serving a drug-related search warrant. Ogden officer Jared Francom died and five other officers were injured. Stewart was shot several times.
He was hospitalized, including time in an intensive care unit, until Jan. 30, when he was deemed healed enough to be booked into the jail.
The clock started ticking then on the county’s responsibility for his medical bills, said Chief Deputy Kevin Burton, who oversees the jail.
Since Stewart was technically in custody as two uniformed deputies guarded his hospital room around the clock, some might argue the county was liable for the Jan. 4-30 hospital costs.
“Not to my mind,” Burton said. “But that’s a matter for the county’s risk management people to contest.”
Burton had to foot the bill for the two deputies to guard Stewart’s room Jan. 4-30, just as he did again when Stewart was rushed to emergency surgery June 14 for complications from his gunshot wounds. He was just returned from the hospital the middle of last week.
Anderson said last month’s roughly two weeks of hospital guard duty could have run as high as $15,000. “That’s thousands of dollars of overtime,” he said. “And that is overtime that is not in our budget.”
“A two-person detail 24-7 does get expensive,” Burton said. “It is many thousands of dollars.”
They don’t want to think about the ICU bill, which can be $1,000 or more a day. Second District Judge Noel Hyde was advised Stewart’s June 14 visit to the hospital would likely involve two weeks in the intensive care unit. For that reason, he canceled Stewart’s three-day preliminary hearing that had been set for this month. It will be rescheduled July 18 depending on Stewart’s prognosis.
The National Institutes of Health website cites a 2002 study by Ohio State University that said the highest cost for a day in an ICU topped out at $10,794 for a patient breathing with mechanical ventilation.
Nobody had any exact figures yet on the extra costs of Stewart’s incarceration, but officials accept that the meter is running, and likely will be for years.
“I don’t look into the costs that much,” Burton said. “I try to tell my people in the jail not to worry about costs. We provide for the custody and care of inmates. What the physician says is required is what we do.”
Weber County Commissioners Jan Zogmaister and Craig Dearden said the commission hasn’t seen the numbers yet, not even preliminary estimates on the added cost of Stewart’s stay.
“But I know we’ve got our hands full,” said Zogmeister, the commissioner who is liaison to the jail.
The jail is used to the drill, with the recent extended stays for death penalty cases Jacob Ethridge and Riqo Perea, both now doing life-without-parole in Utah State Prison.
“It’s the right thing that death penalty cases move carefully, but it’s a burden on us,” Burton said.
The jail has a doctor under contract who hires a dentist and a physician’s assistant. One of the three is always at the jail, Burton said, as well as one or more of three nurses assigned to the jail.