Washington County officials said Tuesday that more than $2 million in overdue medical bills for inmates at the county’s Detention Center have been take care of.
According to a news release from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Keith Sexton and county Mayor Joe Grandy have negotiated with Ballad Health to whittle those charges down to $475,515. The sheriff said those bills had been ignored by the previous sheriff’s administration.
He said no one in Washington County government was aware of the past due invoices, some of which dated back to 2018, because the former administration overseeing the jail had failed to forward those bills for payment.
“The mayor and I made this mess a priority to clean up,” Sexton said in the release. “Considering where we started, this is a fair settlement for the services that were provided by Ballad.”
Grandy concurred, and was quoted as saying he was “appreciative of the amount of time and effort the Sheriff’s Office and Ballad put in to helping us look at medical bills that were several years old.”
Sexton said negotiations began in November after he was appointed to serve as interim sheriff following the retirement of Ed Graybeal. It was then that he said he discovered a demand for payment letter from Ballad. Prior to Sexton’s appointment, Ballad had attempted to negotiate payment multiple times over a period of several years with little or no response from the former sheriff’s administration.
“According to Ballad officials, neither the former chief deputy nor former jail administrator responded to requests from the health care group to negotiate payment,” Sexton said. “On top of that, the county’s accounting office never received the invoices nor knew anything was past due to Ballad.
Leighta Laitinen, who resigned from the chief deputy’s position on Nov. 21, told the Press in March that there was “most definitely a process in place” to pay those medical bills when she left that office.
“We routinely saw medical bills of $1.5 to $2 million annually at the jail during my 25 years at the sheriff’s office,” she said, adding her staff had come up with a plan to reduce those medical bills to $350,000.
Sexton defeated Laitinen and Michael Templeton to win the Republican nomination for sheriff in the May 3 election. He is running unopposed for the job on the Aug. 4 general election ballot.
Laitinen noted at a press conference earlier this year that the jail staff was not seeing many of the Ballad bills in question because they were going to a previous medical care contractor at the jail.
Laitinen said changes were made, with the help of the county attorney and other county officials, to return the jail health care contract to Southern Health Partners. The former chief deputy said she attempted to inform Sexton of the jail’s medical billing situation and the steps her staff had taken to resolve it when she turned in her badge and keys on Nov. 22.
“He told me they would figure it out,” Laitinen said.
However, Sexton said Tuesday that his administration “discovered that while some medical bills to physicians and specialty groups were submitted for payment, bills from Ballad were not. It was like if an invoice had Ballad’s name on it, they pushed it to the side.”
Because of the lack of record keeping by the former administration, Sexton said Ballad had to provide duplicates of the invoices to the county because no one in the sheriff’s department had copies.
At the same time, Ballad Health never denied emergent or outpatient medical care to an inmate housed in the county’s Detention Center even with the three-year lapse in payment.
“We are glad to get this matter settled and move forward,” Sexton said.