Piscataquis commissioner questions cost of COVID-19 testing at jail

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — The chair of Piscataquis County’s commissioners on Tuesday questioned why the county did more than $11,000 in COVID-19 testing at the jail months ago.

Chair James White’s questions arose during a meeting Tuesday, where commissioners considered approving $96,842.24 in county expenditures.

Included was an $11,423.02 charge from Northern Light Health’s Mayo Hospital, most of which was for COVID-19 testing at the Piscataquis County Jail, according to the meeting warrant. The specific test dates were not made available.

In Piscataquis, the poorest county in Maine, every penny counts. White questioned the hefty expense, how it happened and who mandates medical treatment at the jail where the county is responsible for paying the bills using taxpayer money.

“I’m just curious because if we have protocols, we need to follow them,” he said. “If we have Northern Light suggesting we spend $11,000, that should go through somebody else before it just gets done. We shouldn’t have Northern Light dictating something and then administering something. It seems like a whole lot of money.”

County Manager Michael Williams said the COVID-19 testing was mandated when a small outbreak happened at the jail in Dover-Foxcroft, though he didn’t provide a time frame.

White asked who ordered the testing and whether it was mandated or suggested.

“The doctor from up here is what I was told,” Williams said. After several people tested positive for COVID-19, guards and inmates had to be tested, he said.

Jaeme Duggan, Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency director, wasn’t sure whether the medical director or Maine Department of Corrections was behind the testing.

In Maine, county jails are subject to state regulations and licensed by the Maine Department of Corrections. The Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Office contracts with Mayo Hospital to receive medical care and medications for inmates, including a weekly clinic and physical exams for new inmates.

“Did it turn out that we have a bunch of people dead from COVID over there?” White asked. “Everything good? Anyone seriously ill or anything?”

The chair said it has been more than a year and a half since the outbreak, and he asked Williams and Duggan if anyone has been hospitalized.

The person who initially tested positive was the only positive case and there was no transmission is Williams’ understanding, he said. Staff members were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the beginning, Duggan said, though she didn’t give specifics. A staff member lost a spouse to the illness, she said.

Approving county expenditures is a routine action for commissioners, who meet twice a month and consider electrical, building maintenance, mileage and other fees. Occasionally questions arise about expenses that may not be standard or are higher than expected. 

Commissioners approved the county expenditures. White and Commissioner Andrew Torbett said the approval was made with concerns. White also requested that county officials find out who mandated or suggested the testing.

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