OGDEN — A nursing shortage at the Weber County Jail has led officials to seek temporary relief staff from Davis County’s lockup.
Commissioners in both counties voted in separate meetings Tuesday to ratify a contract that permits Davis jail nurses to pick up shifts in the Ogden jail as needed while Weber officials work to fill vacancies.
The stopgap arrangement may be a precursor to Weber County outsourcing its jail medical operation to a new private contractor.
The Weber County Sheriff’s Office is negotiating with such a contractor, said spokesman Lt. Joshua Marigoni.
He declined to give details because they’re still being determined.
“We want to provide more complete and better services to our inmates overall,” Marigoni said.
In the outsourcing, all medical personnel, including doctors and nurses, would be provided by the contractor, he said. Under the current arrangement, the jail’s nurses are county employees, who deliver care in conjunction with a local contract doctor.
Of nearby counties, the Cache County Jail’s full medical program is the only one contracted out, Marigoni said.
Davis and Box Elder counties operate in a similar fashion to Weber, with contract doctors and county-employed nurses.
“I don’t see us changing that in the foreseeable future,” Box Elder Chief Deputy Sheriff Dale Ward said.
In the Weber jail, six of 14 nursing positions are vacant, corrections Chief Deputy Sheriff Aaron Perry told commissioners.
“We’ve been short three vacancies for the last nine months,” he said. “When we went from three to five, it kind of pushed us over into this area.”
Perry said the Davis contract will allow the Weber jail to call in nurses from Farmington to cover four or five nursing shifts a week in Ogden.
Under the contract, Weber County will pay Davis $73 per hour worked by Davis nurses in Ogden, plus $26.45 for the mileage of each round trip between the jails.
Nurse recruitment pressures will be alleviated when a contractor takes over medical services, Marigoni said.
The Utah Legislature last week passed a bill aimed at helping jails deal with the effects of drug addiction and mental health problems among jail inmates. One key provision of House Bill 38 would provide refundable tax credits for medical workers who take jobs in jails.
“We have a dearth of qualified mental health care workers” to work in corrections during the tight labor market, said Darcy Goddard, a deputy Salt Lake County district attorney, during a House committee hearing in February.
If the credits prompted even 50 workers to join corrections health care, “that would be a sea change,” Goddard said.
State and county officials have been working on improving medical and mental health services since 25 people died in Utah jails in 2016.
Marigoni said the outsourcing deal being worked out would not replace inmate mental health services in the Weber jail. Alpha Counseling, a contractor with offices in Ogden and three other cities, will continue in that role.