RED OAK - The Montgomery County Law Enforcement Center will no longer accept Mills County inmates due to an unpaid $17,000 medical bill.
The Mills County Jail is not equipped to house women on a long-term basis, so the county had been transporting its female inmates to the Montgomery County facility in Red Oak. Montgomery County Sheriff Joe Sampson said he was following protocol when he sought approval from Mills County Sheriff Eugene Goos to take a female inmate to Montgomery County Memorial Hospital (MCMH) for medical care.
According to Sampson, counties are required to make medical attention available to all inmates. The dispute stems from a difference in opinion about who’s responsible for paying for the inmate’s medical care. Sampson believes the state code is unclear, while Mills County Attorney Eric Hansen said the responsibility clearly rests in the hands of the person receiving medical care.
With Montgomery County inmates, Sampson said they’ve worked out a deal with MCMH to bill the inmate directly. Should the inmate not pay within 30 days, which Sampson said is frequently the case, the bill goes to the county and the law enforcement center utilizes various means to collect the money, including adding it to the inmate’s room and board fee or garnishing their wages.
In this case, with a non-Montgomery County inmate, Sampson said the hospital billed Mills County directly.
Representatives from MCMH declined to comment on the matter while the bill is still being discussed.
Hansen said Mills County refused to pay the bill because the state code says the inmate is responsible for the costs of medical services.
“I sent [MCMH] our standard letter that says while the Iowa code says we have to provide medical care, the bill belongs to the prisoner,” Hansen said. “We’re not on the hook for it.”
What’s more perplexing than the bill, though, according to Hansen, is the involvement of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors.
At a recent board meeting, Sampson informed the Montgomery County supervisors of the unpaid bill, which he said is an issue between Mills County and the hospital.
Board Chair Bryant Amos then directed Sampson to no longer accept Mills County inmates. He said this decision is up to Sampson, but the sheriff and the rest of the board agreed on the matter; no formal action, though, was taken.
“As long as we continue to take Mills County inmates, it’s adding a burden to our county’s hospital,” Amos said. “There’s really nothing for [the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors] to do. We would just like to see them pay their bill.”
Hansen said he’s unclear why the Montgomery County board got involved with an issue between Mills County and the hospital.
“We’re not quite sure why it is the board of supervisors in Montgomery County has decided to make this some sort of personal thing on their end,” Hansen said. “The thing that’s sort of frustrated the (Mills County) sheriff and I is that we’re not quite sure why the board of supervisors over there is sort of stepping in. Our board doesn’t step in on behalf of Glenwood State Bank or somebody else when they’re having a problem. We’re not sure why their board is advocating for a private business.”
Hansen said there’s been speculation in Mills County that the Montgomery County supervisors may have become involved in the dispute because the husband of one of the supervisors (Donna Robinson) is a member of the hospital’s board of trustees. On its website, the county-owned hospital lists Jim Robinson as the chair of its board.
“I don’t know if that’s a conflict or that’s why they’re taking it personally,” Hansen said.
Aside from taking the burden off Mills County, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office received a profit from housing out-of-county inmates. The sheriff’s office receives $55 a day for non-Montgomery County inmates, according to Sampson, and before now, the Montgomery County jail was seeing an average of five-six Mills County inmates a week.
Since last March, Mills County has paid Montgomery County over $42,000 for inmate housing, according to the Mills County Auditor’s Office.
“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Hansen said. “We spent a lot of money in Montgomery County last year, but apparently that didn’t make any difference to them. As a result of this, all of our female prisoners have gone to Adams County.”
In addition to Montgomery and Adams, Mills County has also taken inmates to the Pottawattamie County Jail.
Hansen said the Mills County Board of Supervisors has been made aware of the situation with Montgomery County but is not actively involved in discussions about the issue.
Hansen said he’s optimistic the dispute won’t hinder the working relationship between law enforcement officers in the two counties.
“Everybody has their squabbles every once in a while, but I will say if they ever needed emergency help on something, I’m sure we’d be there,” Hansen said. “Certainly, if one of our guys got in trouble over in Hastings or somewhere and we needed a deputy to respond, I’m sure they would send somebody.”
EDITOR’S NOTE - Red Oak Express assistant editor Molly Skyles and The Opinion-Tribune editor Joe Foreman contributed to this story.