Two Oklahoma hospitals have gone to court to take advantage of a recent court ruling that puts local jails on the hook for inmates' hospital billseven for conditions that predate their incarceration.
Hillcrest Medical Center, a 409-bed hospital, and Oklahoma State University Medical Center, a 304-bed facility, both in Tulsa and operated by Nashville-based Ardent Health Services, have sued Sheriff Stanley Glanz and the three commissioners of Tulsa County seeking to recover nearly $650,000. That sum represents the unpaid balances on 38 patient accounts belonging to inmates for services rendered between September 2006 and December 2007, the hospitals stated in their lawsuit, filed in Tulsa County District Court this month.
A state Supreme Court ruling in December 2007 interpreted Oklahoma law to extend the financial responsibility for jail inmates to pre-existing conditions, Earl Denning, president of Ardent's Oklahoma division, said in a written statement. That ruling, Denning added, has prompted the state Legislature to consider changing the law to put the onus back on inmates.
Chief Deputy Tim Albin, who administers the Tulsa County jail, said he could not comment specifically on the lawsuit. The hospital bills are a significant financial burden for the sheriff's office, he said. The people who are showing up on our doorstep have been using drugs and alcohol for years before they show up here, so they often have serious, chronic health problems, Albin said. These are the same people that the hospitals are dealing with. If they're not under arrest, they're showing up in the emergency room.
The county's financial responsibility for these patients also precludes enrolling them in government programs such as Medicaid for their treatment during their incarceration, Albin added.
John Smaligo, one of the three county commissioners, said in an e-mail that neither (the board) nor its legal counsel has had an opportunity to properly investigate the allegations; therefore, any comment would be premature.
The county had not filed a response to the lawsuit at deadline.