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State Plans To Put More Aging Inmates In Nursing Homes

The Ohio Department of Corrections wants to release some sick inmates to nursing homes to save costs but not everyone agrees with the idea.

The Ohio Department of Corrections wants to release some sick inmates to nursing homes to save costs but not everyone agrees with the idea.

Inside the walls of Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail in Hocking County, Ohio’s aging inmates that are too frail to mix with younger population.

"We have over 400 that are housed here the average age is 62," ODC Deputy Director of Healthcare and Fiscal Operations Stuart Hudson said.

With aging inmates come medical issues and climbing costs to pay for them. Since 2012, the state spent $33 million in health care just for inmates age 50 and older.

Money to pay for canes, walkers, wheelchairs and medication was all paid for with tax dollars.

"We're going to have to invest more money into our health care system in order to take care of those folks," Hudson said.

And the cost to taxpayers keeps rising for the sickest of Ohio's inmates.

Many live at Franklin Medical Center where they either have terminal diseases or are paralyzed and require around the clock care.

The center houses about 50 inmates, including recently released 93-year-old Waxler Burdette, who is serving a four-year prison term for Gross Sexual Imposition and 91-year-old Arthur  Schnipper Jr., serving a life sentence for aggravated murder.

As the prison population ages, places like the Franklin Medical Center have become the de-facto nursing home costing taxpayer millions of dollars.  But the state has come up with a way to cuts costs, by allowing a select number of inmates to live in nursing homes.

"Under this amendment the individual can now be considered for release because he's no longer a threat to society," Hudson said.

Moving inmates into nursing homes isn't new but this proposal would broaden the number of inmates who qualify.

Since 1994, Ohio has allowed for compassionate release of dying inmates into nursing homes or hospice.

This proposal would extend the law to inmates serving mandatory sentences for crimes such as drug possession, sex crimes, murder, and rape among others.

Those serving a life sentence or on death row would not qualify. And those individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s or Dementia would not be considered because they are still able bodied individuals.

The idea is no comfort to Ohio Health Care Association Executive Director Peter Van Runkle.

He said neither the prison system nor the state reached out to him and his organization that represents 750 nursing facilities.

"We have not been part of any discussion with the administration or the department about this issue,” Van Runkle said.

He said placing these inmates in nursing homes will be a tough sell to his members as safety and stigma are major concerns.

"No one is going to say ‘Oh my mom lives next to this harden criminal’ even if the harden criminal by everyone's opinion is incapacitated," Van Runkle said.

By shifting inmates from prison to nursing homes, the state said Medicaid picks up the tab, instead of tax dollars.

Hudson said the savings would be close to $1 Million. But the state admits only two to four inmates qualify right now, raising questions about the need.

But in the next 12 years, Ohio's prison population is expected to grow 12 percent among those 50 years old or older. That's more than 18,000 inmates.

The state said the ability to transfer more of the state’s sickest inmates to nursing homes is another tool to save taxpayer money.

"They are human being too, just because they are inmates doesn't mean they should be treated less than human," Hudson said.