The Piscataquis County Jail in Dover-Foxcroft, pictured. Credit: Valerie Royzman / BDN

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Piscataquis County’s sheriff plans to hire a person with medical training to distribute medications to jail inmates — a first for a department that has used corrections officers to perform the task until now.

Corrections officers aren’t trained to manage the critical medical needs of inmates — many being treated for mental health issues and opioid addiction — and to follow detailed instructions from doctors, Sheriff Robert Young said. There were 29 inmates at the jail Tuesday, and most of them take some form of medication.

This part-time employee would focus solely on medication distribution on weekday mornings, plus serve as a liaison between jail staff, medical staff at Mayo Hospital, the Osco pharmacy and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Across Maine, jails have full- or part-time medical staff — often registered nurses — to oversee the distribution of medications, but Piscataquis County’s jail never has, Young said. As keeping track of inmates, their medications and orders from medical professionals and the federal government grows more complicated at the facility in Dover-Foxcroft, he said it’s time to bring someone on board who is trained.

“We’ve never had someone like that,” he said. “In our county, we always try to do things at as minimal cost as possible. That’s not always a good thing. Sometimes things cost money.”

Corrections officers must carefully follow instructions while distributing medications and monitor inmates as they take them, Young said. Distributing medications to inmates usually takes more than two hours each morning, he told Piscataquis County commissioners Tuesday.

On average, the jail has 13 to 15 federal inmates, and the U.S. Marshal’s Service has to approve their medication, Young said. When a doctor prescribes treatment different from the federal government’s standards, a conversation needs to happen among the parties involved, he said.

“We have orders given by medical [and] psychiatric folks,” he said. “They’re changing medications all the time, and our folks are trying to keep up with this list of medications for inmates. You have four different shifts trying to do it. I think we’re opening ourselves up for some problems.”

Morning hours are challenging because that’s when correctional officers are booking in new inmates, dealing with court hearings and Zoom meetings and other tasks, such as handling meals and visitation calls, Young said. It’s more feasible for officers to handle the noon and evening shifts for medication distribution because those hours come without the extra pressures, he said.

The sheriff’s office would consult with its medical partners about necessary qualifications for the job, but Young imagines someone with experience at a nursing or boarding home would be a good fit.

The Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Office contracts with Northern Light Mayo Hospital to receive medical care and medications for inmates, including a weekly clinic and physical exams for new inmates.

James White, chairman of the commissioners, supported the new position, but he worried it would place a burden on the hiring process. A person with experience working in a nursing home might be comfortable with distributing medications and the liaison duties, but not want to work with inmates, he said.

Someone with the proper qualifications would be interested in the job as long as it offers a good salary, said Jaeme Duggan, Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency director. For example, a person who works overnight shifts at a group home might be drawn to the schedule provided by this position, she said.

Commissioners unanimously approved the sheriff’s request for a new position. The part-time medications manager would work a three-hour shift Monday through Friday. The industry standard for such a position is about $25 per hour, Young said.

The sheriff’s office is also looking to hire a jail administrator and joint patrol sergeant and investigator following recent retirements. Those positions are expected to be announced at the next commissioners meeting. The department is also hiring two patrol officers.

Commissioners also approved the jail’s proposed 2022-23 budget. The 2022 budget totals $1,253,465, according to the report. The 2023 budget totals $1,361,417.