In the last few years, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown has become accustomed to doing more with less. He’s now facing one of his biggest challenges yet, and it all started with an arrest.
Noozhawk has learned that one County Jail inmate, arrested in February, may cost county taxpayers more than a half-million dollars — a year — for the prescription medications he needs to deal with a life-threatening condition.
The inmate, whose name and medical condition have not been released, was booked into the jail on serious violent criminal charges and “this person is likely to remain in custody for a significant amount of time,” according to a March 12 letter Brown sent to County Executive Officer Chandra Wallar.
The cost of the man’s medicine is larger than the jail’s entire annual budget for prescription drugs for all inmates.
According to county staff reports, the man requires a dose of the medication three times a week, with each dose costing $2,760.
“On occasion, the individual has complications with his condition and additional doses of medication are required to treat the complications,” the report states. “It is estimated that the yearly cost of the medication, including regular and additional doses, will be approximately $510,048.”
Because of patient privacy laws, Sheriff’s Department spokesman Drew Sugars said he could not reveal any information about the suspect’s alleged crimes or his identity.
But Sugars said the jail must provide treatment, even if it’s costly, because there is a minimum standard of care required while a suspect is in custody.
Several years ago, he said, a homicide suspect was diagnosed with cancer and went through extensive treatment while in jail, with his medical bills paid by the county.
As for the current inmate’s situation, “it’s an extreme case, but it is an example,” Sugars said.
Brown will appear before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to request additional funds for the county’s current contract for inmate prescriptions.
Prior to the arrest, Brown said, the suspect received his medication free of charge through a state program. That funding source, known as the Genetically Handicapped Persons Program and administered by the state Department of Health Care Services, helps provide medical care for genetic conditions like hemophilia and cystic fibrosis.
But because the man is now incarcerated, he no longer qualifies.
Brown also said that alternative sentencing isn’t an option because the man’s alleged crimes are serious, and that it’s doubtful he’ll be able to post bail.
He said he’s been in discussions with the District Attorney’s Office and the suspect’s defense attorney about the situation.
“Keeping the rights of the individual in mind, they will make every attempt to keep his criminal proceedings moving without delay,” Brown said.
The Sheriff’s Department has been working with the suspect’s former primary-care physician; the jail’s health-care provider, Corizon Health Services; the county Public Health Department; and local pharmacies to determine how to properly care for the man. The county also has reached out to the drug manufacturer, Baxter Pharmaceuticals, for assistance, but with no luck.
The jail’s medical staff has changed the medication and even gotten a discount, but that’s reduced the cost to $2,760 per dose from $3,200.
“This is still extraordinarily high,” Brown said.
County staff is recommending that the supervisors approve a sole-source request Tuesday to purchase the medication from an Oxnard pharmacy that specializes in assisting people with the condition. They say DRG Pharmacy is able to provide the medications at a lower price than any other local pharmacy.
“We are not requesting a budget revision at this time,” said Brown, adding that the inmate is not in jail as a result of AB 109, the public safety realignment bill aimed at reducing overcrowding, costs and recidivism in state prisons.
Under the law, signed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown, more convicted criminals are allowed to serve their sentences in county jails rather than be sent to state prisons.
Officials have said Santa Barbara County’s jail is overcrowded and is only designed to hold pre-trial inmates and those with sentences up to a year. Now, with the new state law, it’s faced with housing even more inmates.
“We would have been faced with this problem prior to criminal justice realignment,” Brown said of the new inmate’s medical costs.