Hepatitis on rise among inmates in the Coffee County Jail

Treatment could be costly By  Jordan Scott, Staff Writer Dr. Johnny Bates, founder and CEO of the private health care facility Quality Correctional Health Care (QCHC), expressed concern about the rise of hepatitis infections among inmates nationwide during a meeting of the Coffee County Purchasing Commission held Tuesday (Sept. 8). In April, QCHC was awarded a contract to operate the medical facility at the new Coffee County Jail. Employees began operations in May. Bates addressed the commission to report on the medical happenings since the new jail opened in May. “Let me tell you, there’s an epidemic of hepatitis C in Tennessee, Alabama, in the South and all over the place from the use of IV injectable drugs like meth, cocaine and heroin,” said Bates. “It’s going to cost this country a fortune to take care of it. “Before long,we’re going to be ordered to buy these medications. The handwriting’s on the wall. I can tell you, it’s coming. They’re almost as expensive as HIV meds.” Bates estimated that 5 to 10 percent of all inmates have some form of hepatitis. According to QCHC’s monthly report, in August, 12 out of 313 inmates in the Coffee County Jail had a form of hepatitis. That is approximately 4 percent. Hepatitis B and C are more common forms of the virus, while hepatitis A is rare among the U.S. population with fewer than 20,000 cases per year according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Vaccinations exist for both hepatitis A, which spreads through contaminated food and water, and hepatitis B which spreads through sexual contact. Hepatitis C is highly contagious with no existent vaccination. The virus is spread through contaminated blood. In August, one inmate had hepatitis A, three had hepatitis B and eight had hepatitis C. According to the CDC, the number of people infected with hepatitis C has more than quadrupled since 2006 in both rural and urban areas in Tennessee. Sovaldi, a new medication that treats hepatitis C, costs approximately $1,000 a pill. A full treatment course takes 12 weeks, amounting to about $84,000 in total. Costs reportedly drop in jail Hepatitis C treatments may become a major cost increase to jails in the future, but the Coffee County Jail is currently seeing a dramatic decrease in their monthly costs since QCHC has taken over operations, according to county officials. Last year, monthly medical expenses at the jail averaged $108,000 a month, said county purchasing officer Andy Farrar. Since awarding the jail medical contract to QCHC, expenses have dropped to an average of $40,000 per month. This cost includes the fees owed to QCHC as well as other expenses such as transport. QCHC is based in Birmingham, Ala. but has contracts with 44 counties throughout Alabama and Tennessee. “Just in transports we were averaging 20 to 30 a month, now we’re averaging two,” Farrar told members of the Coffee County Purchasing Commission. Farrar attributes the decrease in medical expenses to the differences between the old jail and the new jail. “The conditions in the new jail are totally helping,” he said. QCHC provides fulltime medical care, which allows inmates to be seen before their condition escalates and requires emergency services. In addition, Bates said QCHC can do more services on-site such as imaging, checking vital signs and stitching. According to Farrar, overcrowding at the old jail made fghts and injuries more likely, which created emergency medical situations. Farrar said having two inmates to a cell at the new jail naturally decreases the amount of fghts occurring. The contract with QCHC costs the county $465,174 a year. QCHC hired the nurses previously employed by the county at the old jail and now employees them at the new jail. Bates said he visited the jail once a week to oversee operations during the first few months. Dr. Lee Carter has since become the QCHC doctor for the jail.He also visits the jail once a week. “We very much appreciate your concise work,” Commissioner Margaret Cunningham said to Bates. “Nobody could be any more thrilled than we are to have things turn around there at the jail.”