A lack of digital records is a major concern for Pitt County Sheriff Paula Dance as the county’s detention center prepares for an upcoming medical contract.

Dance, alongside Serenity Norman, staff attorney for the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office, presented information about a June 30 renewal of medical services for the detention center to the Pitt County Board of Commissioners on April 19.

The current contract holder is Eastern Carolina Medical Services (ECMS). The company has provided medical care to the detention center since 2000. Norman has been with the office for 14 months and has put together proposals for three other providers as well, to gauge cost-effective services for inmates. One of the office’s goal is to provide the detention center with modern record keeping.

“As far as bringing the detention center into 2021 with electronic records, at this point in time all of the jail medical records are on paper,” Norman said. “All of the local providers are on electronic records, so one of the things that the sheriff and I focused on was what other providers can offer as far as (electronic) systems that can communicate with off-site providers.

“We want to know what the patients in our center are receiving and what they need,” Norman said.

Scott Elliott, county manager, said his biggest concern is that it would be difficult to provide enough time for the transition to a new provider.

“I would almost recommend to just do a one-year extension,” Elliott said. “Give us the year to work out whether the sheriff and the county stays with ECMS or you transfer to a third-party service.”

Commissioner Lauren White questioned whether concerns went beyond paper records. Dance said that the paper records themselves cause issues with transparency and timeliness.

“If I were to ask them right now how many times the rescue squad had come to the detention center to take someone to the hospital, they couldn’t tell me. Everything is on paper. Nothing is electronic or digital,” Dance said. “If I were to question how many sick calls, just to make sure we’re getting our bang for our buck, they couldn’t tell me.”

“There are things with the billing … where there is really no accountability,” she said. “If I go to the hospital and they treat me, they’re going to send me an invoice that says the Band-Aid was $25 or the aspirin was $45 and this is what I’m paying for. I don’t get to see what those invoices are”.

Dance also noted that ECMS pockets half of the unused money from a catastrophic fund and returns the other half to the county. Other vendors said all the money should go back to the county.

The lack of historical data also concerns the sheriff and Norman. Dance said ECMS has said that they would work on getting digital records, but she has yet to see any proof of that. She also said she’s surprised that off-site providers such as Vidant Health have not complained about an inability to access information immediately in an emergency situation.

“This is 2021 and there is no other provider, or facility I can think of, that does not have electronic records,” she said.

Norman said Dance’s decision on whether the office would change providers would be presented before the board prior to its budget meeting and prior to the contract’s end on June 30.

Contact Pat Gruner at pgruner@reflector.com and 252-329-9566.