Garvin County's sheriff is hoping one more big step has been taken toward his jail being able to someday offer medical services right there on-site.

Sheriff Larry Rhodes got two Garvin County commissioners' support this week to get contract negotiations started with a local physician recommended to provide the service right there in the county jail in Pauls Valley.

Commissioners Johnny Mann and Stan Spivey gave the OK for county counsel Carol Dillingham to begin contract discussions with Dr. Dennis Whitehouse. District 2 Commissioner Gary Ayres was not present.

Whitehouse, who has for several years provided off-site medical services for inmates, is being considered as the entity chosen to move those services into the jail.

“I see this as a priority – direct medical care in the jail,” Rhodes said during a weekly commissioners' meeting Monday.

“Not only would this make the jail better but it's about reducing risk.

“We just need this service in this jail. How do you put a value on providing medical in that jail.”

Whitehouse is one of three original bidders for the jail service.

The sheriff says he has renegotiated with all three and is comfortable with any of them being selected for this service.

Along with Whitehouse, the others are Pauls Valley General Hospital and Turn Key Health, a company specializing in overseeing medical care for jails.

Rhodes is recommending the bid from Whitehouse for $117,396 a year because it's the lowest of the three.

For the past several years Whitehouse has been contracted to provide medical services for inmates but not at the jail itself. Currently those services are provided away from the jail facility in PV.

“This will provide 24-7 medical services on site in jail,” Rhodes said, adding a medical professional will be in the jail, diagnosing and prescribing medications for inmates, while a physician, in this case Whitehouse, will be on call whenever needed.

“Right now we have to go off-site. It's a safety issue.”

Much of the costs today involves transporting inmates to hospitals and off-site medical clinics.

The hope is to bring those costs down and make the whole process more efficient by hiring an outside agency to provide most of the services right there at the jail facility.

As is the case now the more serious health conditions will still result in inmates being taken to an outside medical facility.

“Based on what I've seen in other counties over 90 percent of the stuff gets handled right there in the jail,” Dillingham said.

Rhodes told commissioners his own department's budget could provide up to $50,000 for the cost, which he said is “breaking even” for him.

To put it in perspective the sheriff said there were 81 inmates in the county jail on Monday, which is on the high side.

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