Ballad: Washington County TN Sheriff’s office owes $2 million

Sheriff Keith Sexton

A registered letter drafted by Ballad Health on Nov. 22, 2021, came to light on Tuesday, and that letter carried with it a hefty price tag.

The letter, which was written on the same day Washington County commissioners voted unanimously to appoint Keith Sexton to fill the remainder of Sheriff Ed Graybeal’s term in office, demanded payment of over $2 million in overdue medical bills dating back to 2018.

Sexton claimed he found the certified letter under a stack of mail during his first days in office.

“Our first week, we discovered an unopened letter sent via certified mail demanding payment for more than $2 million in overdue medical bills,” Sexton explained. “The invoices from Ballad Health date back to 2018, and were not submitted by the previous administration for payment.”

The letter was addressed to former Chief Deputy Leighta Laitinen, who resigned her post the evening before the letter was written.

In the five-page letter, Ballad noted the following:

“Ballad Health (“Ballad”) writes to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office (“WCSO”) after a multitude of unsuccessful calls, letters and meetings to resolve this matter to demand payment …
Since 2018, Ballad has provided medical treatment to inmates of Washington County Detention Center, resulting in uncompensated care totaling over $2M.
For all established categories of liability, and pursuant to all rationales discussed herein, Ballad demands immediate payment by WCSO/WCDC on outstanding claims in accordance with its legal obligations under state and federal law.”

Since November, Sexton claims he has worked with others within Washington County Government to piece together the details surrounding inmate medical expenses.
“No one in the Sheriff’s office could find the stacks of invoices in question, so I had to request copies from Ballad Health,” Sexton said. “In fact, no one in the county’s accounting department has record of receiving the invoices from the Sheriff’s Department, so therefore the invoices were not processed for payment.”

Laitinen, who is running against Sexton and Michael Templeton in the May 3 Republican primary for the sheriff’s office, held a news conference on Tuesday and claimed a plan was already in place at the time of her resignation to reduce the outstanding medical bills to $350,000 and pay them off.
Even with the three-year lapse in payment, Ballad Health never denied emergent or outpatient medical care to an inmate housed in the county’s detention center.

During his news conference on Tuesday, Sexton said he waited to reveal the letter until his department had a chance to dig into the numbers and chart a path forward. The issue of the unpaid medical bills was further complicated by the fact that the Washington County Detention Center houses federal and state inmates.

Washington County is responsible for the first $1,000 of a state inmate’s medical care, with the state picking up the remainder. Federal inmate medical care is covered entirely by the federal government. The sheriff’s office is in the process of verifying charges presented by Ballad and identifying whether inmates treated were local, state or federal inmates.
“We are working through the invoices with Ballad and a third party vendor to verify inmates, charges and subsequently ensure proper payment is made,” Sexton said.
During his investigation into the medical expenses, Sexton also discovered that the federal inmate contract hasn’t been renegotiated since 2008. Under that 14 year-old contract, WCSO is receiving $53 a day for each federal inmate housed. By comparison, Carter County receives $60 per day for federal inmates housed in its jail.
“Lapses in contract negotiations and tracking of whose inmates we are housing is inexcusable,” he said.

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