County Commissioners approved a 1,078,380.00 contract for Southwest Correction Medical Group to provide mental health, medical care, toiletry items, clothing items and other day-to-day essentials during their May 18 budget work session.

It’s a one year contract with an option for the county to renew for an additional three years but not to exceed a total of four years.

County Finance Director Donna Brandon said the Detention Center has always had expenses when it comes to caring for inmates since before Southwest Correctional Medical Group was put in place.

“Let’s forget about Southwest for a minute, we have always had expenses in care of prisoners. Items that come from that budget are their sanitary napkins, clothes and medical care when they have to take them to the hospital,” Brandon said. “Everything that goes into care for them, we have always had expenses there even without Southwest.”

Commissioners originally budgeted $850,000 for a contract for Detention Center inmate care which came up short by $228,380 with Southwest’s bid of $1,078,380.00. Commissioners also approved a resolution to transfer $400,000 from the Emergency Reserve Fund to cover the additional cost of the contract.

“The historic average on that including where we’re anticipating going this year is $356,000. Without Southwest, we need $356,000 in that line item,” Brandon said.

Correctional Services Director Dan Stump said the detention center put out a bid because the Otero County Community Health Council said they will not be renewing the contract as is.

“We only received three bids back, one was for $1.5 million but it did not include any mental health,” Stump said. “Southwest originally came in around $800,000 we looked at it and they were going to have a mental health service relying on La Frontera. I knew that La Frontera was going to be closing in December.”

Stump said Southwest came back with $1,078,380.00 bid that includes 40 hours a week of mental health counseling on site and a one day a week consultation with a psychiatrist.

“If we do not show that we are being proactive and not providing mental health services with qualifying in-staff of 40 hours a week then we’re going to be facing more and more lawsuits because the detention center is not trained for mental health,” Stump said. “The detention center is not qualified to make a diagnosis for mental health issues unless we put those things in place, we’re going to be in trouble.”

County Commissioner Susan Flores said they are also working on training law enforcement to handle inmates with mental issues through a program called Crisis Intervention Training (CIT).

Flores also said this fiscal year will be ending June 30 which means the budget must be approved soon and the unrestricted cash of $2.7 million can still go up once they have accurate numbers.

Stump said with the new budget La Frontera will not be funded anymore because they will no longer be in service.

“It would be up to Southwest to whoever they’re going to hire to represent mental health now,” Stump said.