AZTEC >> The company that provides healthcare for San Juan County Detention Center inmates has ended its contract halfway through the terms of the agreement, in large part because of rising health care costs.

The county is now searching to hire another provider to take over providing health care services at the county's detention facilities next month.

Correctional Healthcare Companies, in a letter sent to County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter on Nov. 18, said the business was terminating the agreement, without cause, at the end of the day on Feb. 16. The company was scheduled to provide healthcare services through June, according to county documents.

Correctional Healthcare Companies has provided health care services at San Juan County detention centers for 10 years, County Operations Officer Mike Stark said.

The contract between the county and the health care business allowed either party to terminate the agreement without a reason as long as they gave the other 90 days notice of the decision, according to county documents.

The county pays Correctional Healthcare Companies a base of $1.5 million per year, plus the hourly salaries of health care staff, for the company to provide health care at the adult and juvenile detention centers and the alternative sentencing facilities. Stark said the county ends up paying the business a little more than $2 million per year in monthly payments.

On Tuesday, San Juan County Commissioners will vote during a meeting to give Carpenter the authority to select the next provider. Carpenter said giving him the authority will be faster than bringing the decision before the commission.

"We have got to get the ball rolling so we can get a vendor in place so there can be a smooth transition," he said.

Carpenter said the county has received several proposals from businesses, including another proposal from Correctional Healthcare Companies, seeking to become the county's inmate healthcare provider. He said county staff are still evaluating how much those proposals would cost the county and it's not clear if the county will see a significant cost increase.

"It's a blind target. You don't know what you get. I get nervous about it," he said. "Are they going to come back way higher so that it forces us to make some intense changes? I don't know."

Don Houston, the executive vice president and chief operating officer for Correctional Healthcare Companies, said healthcare providers at prisons and jails are seeing a rising cost in the services they provide.

"Anyone who looks at their paycheck and sees that premiums have gone up knows (healthcare) has not gotten cheaper," he said.

He added that an aging inmate population across the country and chronic health, substance abuse and mental health issues among inmates have also lead to an increasing cost for inmate healthcare.

He declined to discuss the company's proposal because the county is still considering proposals.


Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and rboetel@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.