Escambia County

Bashing a success story at the county jail

July 9, 2013

We keep hearing that Interim County Administrator George Touart will be proposing handing over health care at the county jail to a private company. In the June 20 county commission meetings, he said that he was working with Sacred Heart and Baptist hospitals to handle it. I’ve spoken with leadership at both hospitals. Neither is anywhere close to signing such a agreement.

The shame is health care at the county jail has been one of Sheriff David Morgan’s top accomplishments, saving the taxpayers millions and providing much better care than under the McNesby and Lowman administrations.

David Beniot, who heads the jail health care, just can’t understand Touart’s claims that the county administrator can do his job better and cheaper.

A quiet and efficient sort of man, not prone to political battle, he usually wouldn’t come forward at a BOCC meeting, not unless called for, but he went up at the June 20 BCC meeting because he couldn’t understand what was happening. He moved to the front of the room, sliding into a pew behind his boss, the Sheriff, hoping that either one of them might have a moment to speak. Just one moment to ask what was really happening here?

Beniot has been at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office since March of 2009 when he was brought in to fix the problems with the medical services at the Jail. When the Department of Justice announced its investigation in early that year, the ECSO CFO Henrique Dias and Grant Writer Derrick Whidden traveled across Florida on a mission to find the best way to run the medical services at the jail… the best thing to do for the inmates and the best thing to do for taxpayers.

It became apparent that the most efficient way to do this was to run it in house. And they heard the name David Beniot more than once. “Well, it’s not like you can just go to an employee leasing company and ask for somebody to run jail medical,” Whidden said, “you have to research and find the guy who can really do it.” They found the guy.

So when the Interium Administrator George Touart said he could do it cheaper and better – Beniot was stunned and had to come forward. He just didn’t understand “HOW?”

When Touart made his announcement, no one at the Sheriff’s Office had been contacted and no one had been asked about the health services. No one at the county had talked with Benoit.

Touart stated that he was so far into negotiations that he would have a powerpoint presentation about it at that evening’s meeting. That power point never materialized and none of the commissioners ever asked where it was. They just took for granted that George had a plan.

Yes, Touart had called Sacred Heart Hospital, but they had told him they would need a lot more information before committing to anything. Since that meeting, he has had very little “negotiations” with either hospital. But that is how Touart has always operated. Smoke, mirrors and half-truths.

In the end, it appears the county commission will take over the jail. And they will have some other plan for jail medical.

David Beniot, despite his huge success in turning around the facility, will be looking for another job. His was a success that rarely happens in government. He made the lives of inmates safer and more productive and saved taxpayers dollars at the same time. George Touart says he can do this better. He has a plan. As David Beniot leaves Escambia County for some far better place, he only hopes that you might ask a few questions when this doesn’t materialize.

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