Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Missoula County inked a new contract with a medical firm to provide services to inmates held at the Missoula County Detention Facility, including state inmates whose daily costs exceed what the state reimburses.

Commissioners on Tuesday signed the 5-year contract with Wellpath, a national health care provider who cares for roughly 300,000 inmates in 37 states. The services provided to the county include medical, behavioral health and dental.

The contract’s cost amounts to around $2.8 million in the first year, or roughly $15.1 million over five years.

“It allows a little visibility in encapsulating all our medical services,” said Sheryl Ziegler. “They will cover the expenses of those pass-through costs. We’ll pay them to do that, and we’ll have one fixed cost for medical services monthly.”

Ziegler, commander of the detention facility, said Wellpath was selected after the county issued a call for proposals. The firm has served as the county’s previous provider and was the best option moving forward, she said.

Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick said the county is required by law to provide the services to inmates under its care.

“We couldn’t choose to not provide this care,” he said. “Those who enter the jail, their Medicaid is paused and we cover the cost of their medical and dental care. They went through an extensive process that took many months to get to this point.”

While the services provide care to county inmates, it also provides care to state inmates held at the county jail. The cost to the county of holding those state inmates has been an issue for years, as the state doesn’t reimburse the county the full daily cost of incarceration.

Missoula County filed a lawsuit against the Montana Department of Corrections in 2020 claiming it had breached its contract by not covering the full cost of housing state inmates at the local center. At the time, the county claimed the state owned it more than $2.2 million in detention costs.

Local taxpayers are left to make up the difference, the county has said.

“It’s a larger conversation we’ve been having in terms of per diem rates and trying to capture back actual costs to the county,” said Ziegler. “Currently, the state’s rate to the detention center is about $9 per inmate per day underneath what the actual cost to the county is.”


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