MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

April 28, 2013

OU Med Center sues sheriff over release of sick inmates

— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The University of Oklahoma Medical Center has filed a lawsuit against Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel, alleging that he is releasing sick inmates just before they are admitted to the hospital in an effort to avoid paying for their medical treatment.

The hospital claims it is owed nearly $1 million and that Whetsel is circumventing a state law that requires counties to pay the medical costs of inmates in their custody.

“The sheriff and county have either refused to pay for the care provided to a particular patient or unilaterally decided to pay some amount less than what was due and owing,” the hospital’s attorneys wrote in the petition, which was filed April 5 in Oklahoma County District Court.

“The county and the sheriff have developed a practice of ... purporting to ‘release’ inmates from custody before, and even after transporting them to the hospital, and then deny liability for the necessary medical care by saying the inmate is no longer in the county’s custody,” the attorneys wrote

Whetsel, who has not responded in court, said in a Sunday report by The Oklahoman that “there is not much information which can be provided” at this time.

“While the petition raises a unique and somewhat confusing theory of liability which OUMC wishes to place upon the county, the petition does not include particulars of their specific claims which would allow our financial division to ascertain whether the claims were legitimate charges against the county,” the sheriff said.

The hospital also sued the sheriff in 2005 and in 2010 for inmate medical bills. Oklahoma County officials eventually paid about $8 million to settle those claims.

From March 2011 to February, the lawsuit alleges the hospital treated 37 inmates from the Oklahoma County jail and claims those medical bills totaled $976,487, while the sheriff’s office paid only $52,402 of that total.

Hospital attorneys say more than half of the money owed to OU Medical Center is traceable to one inmate.

The inmate, who is not named, was admitted to the hospital in December 2011 and stayed roughly a month at a total treatment cost of $501,931. None of it has been paid, according to the documents.

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