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Sheriff Slashes Jail's Med Costs by 80 Percent

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Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody's program to decrease medication expenses at the Richmond City Jail continues to post big results, according to numbers obtained by a Style Weekly Freedom of Information Act request.

At its 2006 peak, medication cost the jail more than $1 million. In 2007, Woody reduced that to less than $715,000. Figures for 2008 show total medication expenses at the jail were $203,000. Each fiscal year's total accounts for all drugs — from aspirin to AIDS medication — purchased and dispensed by the Richmond Jail.

The mysteriously evaporating medicine cabinet at the city jail has led some people to question whether any inmates are being denied needed medications. Five inmates died at the jail last year, and two of those deaths were AIDS-related.

William Rhoades, a psychologist at the jail who retired in January 2008, says Woody instituted a new policy “that if the HIV people weren't taking their meds in the street, we weren't going to start them here.”

Spending on AIDS and mental health drugs have dropped dramatically in the past three years. AIDS drugs and medications used to treat mental illnesses once accounted for more than two-thirds of the medication costs at the jail, or $741,000. But as of 2007, the first full year under Sheriff Woody, AIDS- and mental health-related drugs accounted for a little more than $86,000. In 2008, the total amount spent on AIDS and mental health drugs was a little more than $51,000.

By comparison, Henrico County Sheriff's Office spent more on AIDS and mental health drugs — $415,000 — in 2008 than the Richmond jail spent on all medications for the entire year. Henrico's two jails house approximately 1,100 inmates, compared with approximately 1,500 inmates in Richmond.

The closest area jail in terms of yearly spending to Richmond is in Chesterfield County, where spending for medication was $120,033 — for fewer than 350 inmates.

In Richmond, the most dramatic cost savings has come in expenses for AIDS drugs. At a high, in 2005, the jail spent more than $207,000 a year, but by 2008 Woody had reduced those expenditures 95 percent to $10,479.

A 2002 United Nations report on AIDS and HIV put the average cost of a triple-cocktail of anti-retroviral drugs in the United States at between $10,000 and $12,000 per patient, per year.

Of the five deaths at the jail last year, the state medical examiner's office confirms that two of the inmates had HIV and died of AIDS-related illnesses. In a third, two independent medical professionals tell Style the official reported cause of death was a common AIDS-related illness.

Woody faces a June 9 primary election against fellow Democrat Antionette V. Irving, a major with the Henrico Sheriff's Office. Last week, Woody received key endorsements from state Sens. Donald McEachin and Henry Marsh III.

Woody's office didn't respond to requests for comment by press time.

In a statement released in March, Woody's chief of staff, Dolores Anderson, defended the jail's medication cost-saving efforts.

“I am extremely proud of the management practices and cost-saving efforts made by the personnel assigned to our Medical Unit over the last few years,” Woody said in the statement. “At no time did the reduction in spending have an impact on the quality of care provided to jail residents by our Medical Staff.”

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