Clallam County to hire jail nurses after service provider ends contract

The Clallam County jail will hire four nurses as county employees after Nashville-based nursing services provider Wellpath submitted its contractually-required termination notice in mid-January.

“Today is an exciting day for the sheriff’s office and I am confident the commissioners will agree,” Sheriff Brian King told the county commissioners at their Feb. 12 work session.

He told the commissioners he wanted to start the new employees on March 1, which he described as “very, very aggressive.”

“What is exciting is we have several Wellpath nurses who are willing to come over as county employees. We were seeing a lot of jail nurse turnover because of dissatisfaction with Wellpath. They said they would love to be county employees,” King said.

The new staffing arrangement will save the county close to $70,000 next year, he said.

Wellpath provided the jail with three nurses (a nursing supervisor and two nurses) for an annual cost of about $611,000, according to a Feb. 12 email from King.

“By hiring our own staff, we are hiring one nursing supervisor and three nurses for approximately $565,000. That would be an annual savings of $46,000 a year and with cost escalators already factored for next year, we would be saving $69,000,” the email stated.

“But it’s not just about the savings. With the additional staff, we will be able to increase nursing hours from 120 per week to 160 per week, which will improve our health care delivery,” King wrote.

After receiving the contractor’s termination notice, the sheriff’s office, risk management and human resources personnel concluded that hiring the jail nurses as county employees was the best solution, according to a staff memo to the commissioners. The cost of the new employees will be offset by the reduction in contract costs, it stated.

King told the commissioners that Wellpath personnel told him they were absorbing a lot of per diem costs to provide the staffing required by the contract and the company planned to pass through those costs to the county.

“We were estimating maybe seeing a 20 percent increase in those costs. Other jails do provide this service, so it’s not out of the realm of the possible,” he said.

Tom Reyes, deputy director of human resources and risk management, said the county was very fortunate that King jumped on this and that they were able to retain these nurses.

“That’s huge,” county commissioner Mike French said.

The availability of nurses was the county’s biggest concern when considering this alternative, King said.

“It’s great. The sooner the better if you have the employees,” commissioner Randy Johnson said.

King said Wellpath has discontinued services to three other small rural counties because they can’t make a profit.

The commissioners will consider a resolution to move the $478,330 nursing services cost from the professional services section of the budget to the salary and benefits section at their Feb. 27 meeting, set for 10 a.m. in the commissioners meeting room at the Clallam County Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St., Port Angeles.