BROOKSVILLE — The County Commission next week will consider taking the first step toward building a medical facility beside the county jail to solve issues with housing juveniles and inmates needing medical attention.
Commissioners will be asked Tuesday to seek a firm to design and construct the free-standing building, which would allow sick or injured inmates to be moved from the detention center and juveniles to move into a remodeled area where medical activities are now conducted.
An engineering report produced at the county's request last year identified $14.9 million in repairs and remodeling recommended for the jail.
While commissioners have spoken publicly about the need for repairs and even set aside $3 million in reserve funds to accomplish those repairs, they have not spoken publicly about additions to the facility.
Providing adequate medical facilities for inmates and proper housing for juveniles have been two challenging issues for the jail, Sheriff Al Nienhuis said Thursday.
The medical area in the jail is crowded and has been repaired piecemeal over the years.
"Our medical staff is doing a great job,'' he said. "But there is no way we can continue it long term.''
The juveniles at the facility must be housed separate and out of sight and sound from the adult inmates. They are housed in a 40-bed pod that could be used to house more adults if the medical facility is built.
Officials with the Sheriff's Office and Hernando County have been looking at alternatives for the facility, which the Sheriff's Office took over from a private operator last year.
They explored a plan to reconfigure space there, which would have required building a new 5,000-square-foot addition and a new 2,800-square-foot secure entryway for vehicles. The cost of that plan was estimated to total nearly $3.8 million, which was beyond what the county was prepared to spend.
That's when the plan to build the 6,000-square-foot medical facility on an existing asphalt pad that had been used as a basketball court was proposed.
"We believe this is less expensive. It will help us solve our juvenile issue and it may enable us, if the market is there, to generate some money'' by bringing federal prisoners back into the facility, Nienhuis said.
Under the old operator, Corrections Corporation of America, federal prisoners were housed at the detention center for years. They were shifted to a new facility in the Panhandle last year.
The loss of those high-paying customers was part of why CCA decided to walk away from the Hernando jail.
Moving the juveniles into the current medical area, which would be remodeled by county maintenance workers, would allow expansion when the population increases, he said.
A new medical building will allow for improvements, including isolation rooms, negative air provisions and suicide-watch cells while also increasing medical bed capacity, noted Lisa Hammond, purchasing and contracts consultant for the Clerk of the Circuit Court, in a memo to the County Commission.
Nienhuis said he has been talking to commissioners about the idea and he was hopeful that they would be supportive.
Commissioner Jeff Stabins, who has been the most vocal critic of any large-scale spending at the jail, said he was assuming that the cost of the free-standing facility would be coming from the $3 million already set aside for the jail.
"If this is coming out of that $3 million, then I'll be open to the presentation,'' Stabins said.
Also during Tuesday's meeting, the commission will consider moving ahead with as much as $155,000 worth of repairs at the jail. The county has made some emergency repairs at the facility but has also allowed CCA time to inspect the facility before major repairs were to begin.
The county withheld funds from CCA because officials believe CCA's improper maintenance caused some of the problems and the firm should pay the cost to repair them.
CCA has sued the county in federal court to recover those funds.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.