Taxpayer dollars: Benton County Jail saving big on treating inmates

TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- KEPR learned far fewer of your tax dollars are being used to treat sick inmates.

Talk about a dilemma. Tens of thousands of your tax dollars are keeping local inmates healthy. Like it or not, the law says they deserve as much medical help as anyone else.

"There are specialists that the patients need to see and it's our obligation to get them there," says Lt. Josh Shelton, Benton County Jail.

If you thought you had a hard time catching up on medical bills, imagine what it's like for a place with 600 possible patients. It's the situation faced by the Benton County Jail every single day.

Each year, more than $200,000 is spent to treat inmates at the Benton County Jail. But at a time when overall costs are going through the roof, something remarkable is happening: a huge savings of your tax dollars.

"Everybody understands today's economy," Lt. Shelton says. "We need to do what we can to provide good care while still spend our money wisely.

The savings this year? $90,000. It's not because of a fewer inmates, or fewer nurses, but better prices on meds.

Earlier this year, the jail partnered with a new pharmacy to score cheaper pills. As part of the deal, the new pharmacy does something that's never been done before: It checks to see if an inmate has insurance, and then reduces the cost of a prescription if an inmate is insured.

Jail workers tell KEPR they've also relied more on generic medications to save money.

They say most of the doctor visits are for common things like the flu.