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Hospital orders sheriff to pay $1.8 million inmate medical bill

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DELAWARE COUNTY, Ind. -- A letter demanding payment of a $1.8 million medical bill has a local sheriff in shock and fighting a hospital.

Delaware County Sheriff Ray Dudley said he received a letter from IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital on Wednesday. The letter stated Dudley was responsible for paying $1,884,036.12 for an inmates medical bill and that he only had 15 days to pay.

The inmate, who CBS4 has chosen not to name, was brought to the jail on July 28, 2016 on a warrant fora theft charge. Dudley said the inmate was in the jail for two days before he began complaining of dizziness and pain.

Then, jail medical staff recommended he go to the hospital. Dudley said after two days in the hospital, a Delaware County judge signed a form releasing the inmate from jail custody.

The letter stated the timing of the release from the jail is "curious and likely a violation of IC 36-2-13-18 (d) which states "a sheriff or county may not release a person subject to lawful detention solely for the purpose of preventing the county from being financially responsible under IC-11-12-5 for health care services provided to the person."

Dudley said his office did not violate this code because a judge released the inmate from custody.

"Anytime that an inmate is released from our jail, I don’t have the authority to do that, it’s done through the courts, so a judge will have to release an inmate," Dudley explained.

He said the judge most likely released the inmate because the charge was a misdemeanor and the jail is full. He said it's common for county jails to release inmates with lesser offenses.

The patient remained at Ball Memorial for 6 months total, racking up the $1.8 million dollar bill. The letter stated he was in "septic shock and was intubated due to respiratory distress."

The total bill for the two days the inmate was in the hospital while Dudley says he was in jail custody, was about $60,000. Dudley said he agreed to pay that amount but does not plan on paying the total $1.8 million. That amount is about 1/3 of the total yearly budget for the sheriff's office.

"It doesn’t fall on our shoulders at all," Dudley said. He added, "if that was the case, anybody would come to jail to take care of something and then use us an insurance carrier for the next year and a half."

The letter also states Dudley did not seek Medicaid coverage for the inmate. Dudley said state law says the sheriff's office is only required to seek Medicaid after an inmate is in custody for 30 days. Once again, Dudley argues, the inmate was only in his custody for four days total, two of which were spent in the hospital.

IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital responded with this statement:

"In order to respect the privacy of patients, we are not in a position to comment.  In any matter involving a billing dispute, we would work with the responsible party to arrive at a mutual understanding and agreement of terms."

Sheriff Dudley said he plans to meet with hospital officials on Tuesday and is hoping they will come to a resolution then.

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