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North Dakota inmate's medical costs could top jail's entire med budget

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FARGO

Cass County taxpayers will have to pay for costly medical treatments for a jail inmate with a history of violent crimes.

County commissioners were briefed on the case in closed session Tuesday - and warned by Sheriff Paul Laney that the bills likely will be significant.

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By law, the county must pay inmates' medical bills. The inmate's identity was not revealed because of laws protecting medical privacy.

But Laney said the inmate has been convicted of violent offenses and is in custody awaiting trial on other charges, with still other charges under review.

The inmate's crimes are too serious to simply drop the charges to avoid paying the medical bills, Laney said.

"I can tell you it was a deadly weapon," the sheriff told commissioners in a discussion in open session that followed the closed discussion of the inmate's medical problems. "Do I have that concern for public safety? Absolutely."

It's possible the need for specialized care would mean transporting the prisoner for treatment elsewhere. Although the county routinely pays inmates' medical bills, this case is unique, Laney said.

The cost easily could exceed the jail's entire medical budget for inmates, now approximately $300,000, he added.

Commissioners urged Laney to seek other possible funding sources, including medical assistance, if the inmate is eligible.

State's Attorney Birch Burdick is also doing legal research to determine the level of care the county is obligated to provide.

Commissioner Scott Wagner said, for instance, that the county had no obligation to pay the inmate to fly to Europe for experimental treatments.

Commissioner Ken Pawluk asked if it would be possible to treat the inmate in jail, since "this is an extraordinarily dangerous individual."

That's unlikely, Laney said. He later told reporters hospital treatment appears likely. That's been done before, he added, noting a man who abducted a Fargo woman and later was shot in Moorhead was hospitalized under guard.

Answers, including a second medical opinion, should be in hand soon, he said.

"We have a lot of hard decisions to make in the next couple of days," Laney said.

Cass County has consulted with state corrections officials and other law enforcement officials, and Laney expects the issue will come up in next year's legislative session.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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