published Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Procedures slow progress on contract for Marion County jail medical director

By Ryan Lewis/Correspondent

JASPER, Tenn. — When Marion County administrators set out to establish a contract for the county jail's medical director, they didn't realize how complicated and slow the process would be.

Officials recently found that the county is in violation of state law by not having such a contract.

"We don't have a contract [with the jail's medical director]," County Mayor John Graham said in August. "We've never had one. In my view, we're in violation [of state law] by not having one."

Graham said he has been working with the University of Tennessee's County Technical Assistance Service to establish a draft for the contract.

"It's extremely difficult once you start looking into how you hire a jail physician and have a contract with them," he said. "It gets really tedious and pretty difficult."

Graham estimated it will take "several weeks, if not a couple of months, to get the situation done."

"It's going to take time, and we have to make sure we get it right," he said.

The advisory service representative working with Marion is "an expert" on contracting a jail medical director, Graham said.

Marion County Sheriff Ronnie "Bo" Burnett sat in on the meetings about the contract and said he was surprised by how complicated the process was.

"[CTAS officials] came up with a lot of things [that should be addressed in the contract] that I hadn't thought of, so it is going to take a while to work this out," he said.

Dr. Brenda Sowter, who has served as the jail's medical director for 11 years, said she was approved by the Marion County Commission and carries county employee status.

"I think that constitutes a contract," she said in August. "It's all right there. There's nothing under the table whatsoever."

Sowter said she is concerned that a written contract suddenly is required for the job because she never has asked for an increase in pay and doesn't charge for overtime.

Graham said the county will not advertise the position until the contract's details have been established.

Sowter will continue in her role as county jail medical director, officials said, and will be welcome to apply for the position when it is announced.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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