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Officials laud jail health care

December 20, 2018

KANKAKEE — Kankakee County inmates get better medical treatment than people on the outside, the sheriff says.

Sheriff Mike Downey recently told the Kankakee County Board’s criminal justice committee that his views on inmate health care have changed.

“My initial thought on this whole process is let’s provide the bare minimum of what we have to provide by jail standards. Shame on me, that was my initial response years ago,” Downey said.

He said the jail’s medical staff has since convinced him that everyone is better off if the jail provides higher quality care.

“A lot of these individuals, whether it’s marshals or ICE, don’t get proper treatment when they are on the street,” Downey said.

That may be because they cannot afford it, don’t know about resources available to them or are afraid they will be turned over to ICE if they seek treatment, he said.

The jail’s medical staff includes two physician assistants and eight registered nurses. Its budget is slightly less than $1 million, Downey said.

The local jails have become the “go-to” place for federal agencies when inmates need medical treatment, he said.

“Any individual who is in our custody leaves our custody medically better than when they came into our building,” the sheriff said. “I would put our medical staff against anyone in the country. They care about people and do great work.”

County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler, R-Kankakee, praised the jail’s medical service.

“The amount that the finance committee allocates to that is a lot. We care,” he said.

Board member George Washington, D-Kankakee, said the jail’s health care is much better than it used to be.

“I get questions about what kind of medical care is provided. I’m proud to see we give them the best we can possibly give within this system,” Washington said. “I have no qualms with the service (compared) to when I was running the jail in 1978. We had a nurse come in now and then and a doctor come in only when he had to.”

On another note, Downey said the medical staff brought an expert in medical billing to try to reduce the jail’s bills from outside health care providers such as hospitals. The expert was able to reduce a $105,000 batch of bills to $44,000.

“When we save money, the county benefits,” the sheriff said.

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