Tele-medicine service to increase for La. prisons
BATON ROUGE - The state Department of Corrections plans to increase over the Internet diagnosis and treatment by nearly 600 percent.
Corrections is rushing to sign a state contract to provide 17,000 annual tele-med check-ups to thousands of inmates.
Deputy Secretary Thomas Bickham said the department was caught slightly off guard when Earl K. Long Medical Center closed last month, seven months sooner than originally expected.
"We were on course to get everything in place by September. Our time line got compressed, and so we're getting these services in place as quickly as we can," Bickham said.
What's usually a five to six month process is now 13 days.
Friday, DOC sent a proposal to multiple companies which offer tele-med services asking for quotes back by May 15.
DOC plans to award the contract the following day.
Since state leaders consider this a professional services contract, corrections said it is exempt from going through the normal bidding process.
LSU Medical Center handles roughly three thousand tele-med check-ups a year, but Bickham said it can't handle a near 600 percent increase.
"From a service perspective, we're going to need the service long term," Bickham said.
Corrections currently pays about $600,000 for tele-med services. Whichever company wins the contract will bank $3-3.5 million a year.
The money comes from existing funding used for inmate medical treatment.
Bickham said public safety is the primary benefit of utilizing tele-med services rather than individual hospital visits.
"In the past, we would have to load them up, transport them to the closest LSU hospital, have them see that physician, then transport them back. What tele-medicine allows us to do is to keep that inmate behind the fences at the institution. It allows us to get the same medical treatment at the same cost, do it more efficiently and effectively, but most importantly it's very protective of public safety because again you're leaving the prisoner behind the walls in order to get treatment," Bickham said.
Inmates needing emergency or immediate medical treatment will continue going to nearby medical facilities, but Bickham said the state has agreed to get them back to prison as soon as they are stabilized.
The Department of Corrections is building clinic space at many state prisons to be used for in-patient doctor visits and treatment.