Weber County jail inmates getting better medical attention after change, officials say
OGDEN — Nearly a year-and-a-half after privatizing provision of health care in the Weber County jail, officials involved say the change is helping improve the medical attention inmates receive.
Notably, the shift, approved by Weber County Commissioners in March 2020, has helped augment attention to potential medical issues among inmates before they get too severe. “We are proactively looking at those individuals who are vulnerable, who have a higher risk of having poor health,” said Jan Egli, health services administrator for VitalCore Health Strategies, the firm contracted to oversee medical care at the Weber County Sheriff’s Office jail at 721 W. 12th St.
The positive review comes as county leaders mull another possible change affecting the sort of care inmates receive — expansion of the jail’s medical and mental health facilities, potentially a multimillion-dollar prospect. Davis County officials launched an $8.7 million expansion of the jail there last February with a focus on upgrading medical offerings.
Commissioners contracted with GSBS Architects of Salt Lake City last June to look into the expansion question and the consultant’s report should be done in the “next couple weeks,” said Phillip Reese, chief deputy in the sheriff’s office. Then commissioners and sheriff’s office officials will have to decide on what subsequent steps to take.
Commissioners approved hiring of VitalCore to oversee medical care at the jail, taking over from the county, to bolster coverage. The first year of the contract cost $3.3 million, which officials last year said represented a $1.14 million increase over what the county paid as provider. The second year, which started last April, will cost the county $3.5 million.
“Providing medical care for this type of population that’s sick and vulnerable is expensive,” Reese said. The Weber County jail typically houses 650 to 700 inmates of late.
Reese said it was difficult to precisely pinpoint health care costs in the jail when the county handled the service and that it is easier with VitalCore in charge. Either way, bolstering the quality of care is a good thing. “If we save one life, the cost is worth it,” he said.
Egli singled out daily meetings between VitalCore and jail officials on the health of inmates as a notable change for the better. She also said VitalCore has augmented the health care staff in the jail with the hiring of a physician assistant, nurse practitioner and psychiatrist.
The change has also improved quality-control of the care inmates get because it’s getting closer review and scrutiny, Reese said. He also noted the ability of VitalCore to recruit health care workers, keeping staffing levels where they need to be.
Jail operators have been facing increasing pressure from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union to upgrade the sort of care inmates get, notably with regard to drug addiction and mental illness.