I’m going to admit something. Something some of you already know. Last year was a challenging year for the Sheriff’s Office. A lot of the focus was on the care our inmates in the County Jail were receiving. But with those challenges came some big changes. And one of the biggest changes came in the area of medical and mental health services in our County Jail.
I’ve talked in previous columns about the hiring of a new Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Christy Mulkerin in 2018. Hiring a Chief Medical Officer for the jail offers one point of contact for all medical and mental health care which increases communication regarding inmates’ health. That’s something we needed in the Jail. I am tremendously proud of the work Dr. Mulkerin has done in her first year and the changes she has instituted in the jail.
Another major change is the outsourcing of all medical, mental health and dental care to a private company that has expertise with in-custody health care. Last month, we had a ribbon cutting to welcome that company, Wellpath, to the Sheriff’s Office. The event was well attended with county Supervisors, Adam Hill, Bruce Gibson and John Peschong, as well as a number of media entities, Wellpath doctors and nurses, and Sheriff’s Office personnel. But it was a long process to get to that point. So let me give you some background information on the process we used to arrive at our selection of Wellpath to become our Jail health care service provider.
Previously health care in the jail was provided by the County Public Health Department. In September 2018 the decision to contract out Jail Health Care Services was made by the County Board of Supervisors after a process of research and deliberation about the best way to deliver high-quality inmate care. Not only will this change provide expanded healthcare to inmates but it will do it at a significant cost savings to the County. Then we began the careful process to search for the right company who could provide those services we wanted and needed in the Jail. Our search led us to Wellpath.
Wellpath is a new name for an e xperienced company, formed as integration between two health care providers, Correctional Medical Group Companies (CMGC) and Correct Care Services (CCS). CMGC has long been the chosen health care provider in California Jails and after joining w ith CCS, serves 270,000 patients in 37 states across the U.S. and Australia.
I think the Chief Operating Officer of Wellpath, Cindy Watson, said it best, “The partnership between San Luis Obispo County & Wellpath is a great one, because we both believe in transforming public health by delivering hope and healing to those who need it most.”
Wellpath has been preparing to transition health care services over the past few months after finalizing a contract in December. The services outlined in the contract include medical, behavioral health, and dental care, and are consistent with the national standard of Jail health care as defined by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC).
I truly believe we are beginning a new chapter in our County Jail by expanding the range of health care that we provide. When the health needs of our jail population are met, that leads to safety and security to everyone in the jail. And I think that’s a healthy attitude to have.