Gila County will save more than $330,000 this year by switching to a private contractor for a federally required court program. Gila County supervisors recently canceled a contract with the state, and instead signed on with Yavapai County, which uses the Pennsylvania-based Wexford Health Sources.
Historically, Gila County has contracted with the state Department of Health Services for a program that provides mental health services at the state hospital for people judged incompetent to stand trial.
The state used to shoulder half the cost, but cutbacks have left Gila County responsible for the entire amount — a projected cost of $600,000 this year.
Last month, the county received a bill for $55,000 for three people. The state charged Gila County $671 per person, per day.
Hospital stays can last for months. One of the patients was admitted on April 20, costing the county nearly $48,000 for his 71 days of treatment.
County Manager Don McDaniel, along with other staff, discovered that Yavapai County contracts with Wexford to operate the same program for less than half the cost per person.
The switch will save the county tens of thousands of dollars. Just last month, Gila County would have saved $34,500 under Yavapai County’s rates. Instead of $671 per day, the new program will charge $350 for each patient’s first day, and then the cost will drop to $250 on subsequent days. The higher first-day fee includes administrative costs for processing.
The program, called Restoration to Competency, ensures that defendants understand the charges against them so they can participate in their defense.
Yavapai County began using Wexford Health in April after officials there discovered that continuing to use the state’s program would have cost them over $2 million this year. Wexford Health provides correctional health care across the country.
According to the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office, the move shaved two-thirds off of the program’s expenses. Reduced transportation costs accounted for some of Yavapai County’s savings, and Gila County will still need to pay for those costs above the daily fee.
Competency is not a mental health status, although a judge can determine a mentally ill person incompetent to stand trial. However, people with mental illness are not automatically incompetent.
After someone is charged with a crime, his attorney can file a motion to request an evaluation.
If a judge decides the motion has merit, one psychologist and one psychiatrist will evaluate the defendant. In case of disagreement, the court will find a third mental health professional to evaluate the person.
If the person is found competent, the trial continues.
However, if the person is incompetent, he enters the Restoration to Competency program and stays there until the mental health workers determine his fitness to stand trial.
The legislature created the program in 1995. Before then, defendants who a judge found incompetent to stand trial were simply released from jail.