Since the publication of the new jail contract in The Vidette, I have heard many questions and comments from the citizens of the county. The majority of the questions were about what I would do with all the extra money. Many other comments were expressions of resentment of why the inmates should get free medical care while everyone else has to pay for their own insurance. One person even complained why I should get paid for providing medical care when all I do is send them to the emergency room. I am writing this letter to provide some perspectives and facts into the Grays Harbor County Jail medical care.
First, I am not getting $250,000 from the county. The cost of physician medical service in fact did not increase. The majority of increase in cost is to hire, manage and to pay for the nursing staff for 365 days of the year. Many of the small jails like Grays Harbor County have used non-medically trained correctional officers for medication administration and triaging of inmate medical complaints. This is not a good nor safe practice of medicine. This also places a huge liability risk for the county and the Sheriff’s department. I have been advocating decent, safe and basic standard of medical care for the inmates, which includes support and availability of nursing staff. I am very appreciative of the Sheriff and the county commissioners who have graciously agreed with me to bring our jail medical care in line with this basic level of standard of care.
Second, there are many complex issues on the concept of free medical care at the jail. Regardless of how one feels about the free “jail” medical care, these inmates are human beings and they deserve some basic rights, including basic medical care. Moreover, our Eighth Amendment obligates prison officials to provide adequate medical care.
Lastly, contrary to some uninformed citizens stating inmates going to ER for medical care, it is very rare that the inmates actually go to ER for basic medical care. By providing good basic primary care in jail, I have been saving the county over $100,000 per year. “Dr. Ki Shin is a hero” commentary was written by the Vidette editor a few years ago for this exact reason. Currently the average cost to provide medical care by a national private company for a county jail of our size exceeds $1 million per year. I deeply care for everyone having access to good basic medical care even if one is in jail. For that, I am pleased to be able to provide my service at minimal, nominal cost without the huge administrative cost which comes with hiring a national private company. As a medical provider in Grays Harbor County, I am proud to be able to contribute to improving the quality of medical care in our county, including the correctional facility.
I would not call myself a hero for what I have been doing as the jail medical director and I am totally OK with no one coming to me to say thank you for saving money for the county. I do, however, very much mind others making judgment without knowing the facts of the matter.
Dr. Ki Shin
Associate Professor of Medicine
Assistant Clinical Dean of WWAMI program
University of Washington School of Medicine