Ind. hospital to sheriff: Pay inmate's $1.8 million medical bill

MUNCIE, Ind. (INDY STAR) — IU Health has sent a letter to Delaware County, Ind. Sheriff Ray Dudley, demanding that he pay $1.8 million in medical care costs for a former jail inmate's six-month stay in Ball Memorial Hospital.

Dudley told The Star Press that the man was no longer an inmate two days after he went to the hospital, when a judge ordered him released, and the county has no responsibility to pay. The sheriff also questioned the amount of medication billed as given to the inmate during his first two days in the hospital.

The "Demand for Payment" letter sent by an IU Health attorney to Dudley on Aug. 17 also suggests that Dudley violated the state law that makes sheriffs responsible for the medical care of their inmates.

Dudley indicated Wednesday that he'll dispute the letter from Jenna Rager, from the Office of Legal Escalation at Indiana University Health. The sheriff noted that his entire annual budget for medical care for jail inmates is just over $500,000, or less than a third of the amount IU Health seeks.

"The hospital doesn't have the right to say we have to provide medical care after an inmate has been released," Dudley said. "If so, anybody we would take to the hospital, we would still be responsible for their care even after they're no longer in our custody."

In response to a request for comment or interview, IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital released a statement Wednesday afternoon.

"I order to respect the privacy of patients, we are not in a position to comment. In any matter involving a billing dispute, we would work with the responsible party to arrive at a mutual understanding and agreement of terms," the hospital said in an email.

Under state law, sheriffs are responsible for medical costs for jail inmates in their custody. For decades, the county has paid for not only immediate medical treatment but also vision and dental care for inmates.

"This is why we have a medical provider in the jail," Dudley said, referring to Advanced Correctional Healthcare of Illinois.

The IU Health complaint is over Richard Ballard Howell III, 41, who was arrested in July 2016 after allegedly stealing nearly $3,800 worth of Ray-Ban sunglasses from a Muncie vision care center.

Dudley said Howell, who has also threatened a lawsuit against the jail, was booked into the jail in the Delaware County Justice Center on July 26, 2016. Howell had been arrested in Allen County and transferred to Delaware County.

After Howell complained of illness, headache and shortness of breath, the jail medical staff decided he should be transported to IU Health Ball Memorial on July 30, 2016.

Dudley said jail records indicate that Delaware Circuit Court 3 Judge Linda Ralu Wolf released Howell from custody on Aug. 1, 2016.

Howell could not be reached for comment this week. The Star Press left a message for an attorney who has represented him in past cases.

The "formal demand for payment of services rendered" letter sent by IU Health to Dudley said Howell was arrested on July 28, 2016 and "detained without bail in the Delaware County jail for two days when he was transported to IU Health Ball Memorial on July 30, 2016," after complaining of "aching all over and shortness of breath."

Howell was diagnosed with "septic shock," according to the IU Health letter, and was intubated due to respiratory distress.

"Mr. Howell was clearly under lawful detention at the time he was transported from Delaware County jail to IU Health Ball Memorial on July 30, 2016," according to the demand letter. "His release does not alleviate Delaware County from financial responsibility."

The letter maintains, "Soon after he was admitted as an inpatient, IU Health was notified (a police hold) was no longer in effect, as Delaware County jail decided to release known felon Mr. Howell on July 31, 2016.

"The timing of Mr. Howell's release from Delaware County jail is curious and likely in violation of IC 36-2-13-18(d) which prevents a county from releasing an inmate to avoid financial responsibility for health care services.

"For the above stated reasons, the Delaware County jail is expected to reimburse IU Health for the medical care provided to Mr. Howell from July 30, 2016, through Dec. 5, 2016. Please respond within 15 days of receipt of this letter with payment on IU Health's claims of $1,884,036.12."

Dudley questioned some of the charges for Howell's care detailed on an invoice covering the inmate's initial two days of treatment at the hospital. The total for those two days, which are the only ones the county acknowledges Howell was an inmate, is $60,468.

Charges include several thousand dollars for 241 pills given Howell in those two days, Dudley said.

Contact Keith Roysdon at 765-213-5828 and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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