Lewis County Jail Partners With Department of Health to Pay for HIV, AIDS Medications

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

The Lewis County Jail recently became the first corrections facility in the state to partner with the state Department of Health on signing people up to receive benefits under the Early Intervention Program, Washington’s version of the National AIDS Drug Assistance Program. 

So far, the partnership has been mutually beneficial, project partners said. It saves the county thousands of dollars on expensive medications while signing up more people for the Department of Health’s program.

“We think its a successful option,” said Richard Aleshire, program manager for HIV client services at the state Department of Health. “They referred another person to us so we’re now serving two people through Lewis County Jail”

Lewis County Jail Chief Chris Sweet briefed the Board of County Commissioners on the partnership earlier this month. 

When a person is booked into the jail, he explained, the jail becomes responsible for their medical costs. Inmates on Medicare or Medicaid temporarily lose their benefits, and depending on their medical issues, the county could be on the hook for pricey treatments.

While few inmates booked in Lewis County are HIV-positive, medication costs for one HIV positive inmate could be as much as $3,200 per month, Sweet said.

“It’s pretty big for us,” he told the commissioners. 

Currently the jail has two inmates who have been referred to the program. 

Sweet credited Katie Strozyk, of Lewis County Public Health and Social Services, for starting a dialogue with the Department of Health about how it could help cover those costs. 

At first, Aleshire said Early Assistance Program staff had to do some serious research to find out if incarcerated individuals could be served through the program, which is federally funded.

“This is the first jail that we’ve worked with,” he said. “Normally we work with community based organizations or local health jurisdictions.”

In other circumstances, a client is referred to the Early Invervention Program through a community health organization or other agency, or they can refer themselves. Once they are determined to be eligible, the Early Assistance Program can cover medication, insurance premiums, mental health, medical and lab services and case management for HIV positive Washington residents, he said. 

About 3,500 Washington residents receive assistance through the program, which is available to people living at up to 400 percent of the poverty line.

In this case, the jail refers the client to the Early InterventionJail Chief Chris Sweet Program.

“We checked with our federal project officer and we checked with our assistant attorney general and (they said) yes, indeed, it is permissible to pay for someone while in jail,” Aleshire said. 

The Early Assistance Program works with pharmacies around the state. In the case of jail inmates on the program, the pharmacies will likely just send the medication to the jail, he said. 

“When the individual does leave jail at some point, they can continue in our program,” he said.