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New Skagit jail open for business, will hire private company for inmate health care

Skagit County opened its new 400-bed Community Justice Center over the weekend, a big step up from its current 83-bed jail. It’s one of the largest buildings in Mount Vernon.
Skagit County opened its new 400-bed Community Justice Center over the weekend, a big step up from its current 83-bed jail. It’s one of the largest buildings in Mount Vernon. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

After four years and $48 million, the new Skagit County Community Justice Center has started housing inmates, officially replacing the old county jail.

The new 400-bed, 100,000-square-foot facility was built to better accommodate the county’s jail population, which averages about 200. The old jail was built to hold 83.

Inmates were transferred Saturday, and Chief of Corrections Charlie Wend said staff are getting used to working in the new facility.

“We’re working through the glitches you’d expect when moving into a new building,” he said, noting the transition has been remarkably smooth.

Skagit County is pursuing a contract with jail medical company NaphCare to provide medical services, replacing the current county-run system.

Wend said the inmate population will be capped at about 275 for the rest of the year in order to help staff acclimate.

With an increasing jail population, changes to jail medical services are also necessary.

On Thursday, the jail finance committee agreed to pursue a contract with jail medical company NaphCare to provide medical services, replacing the current county-run system.

At a presentation to the Skagit County commissioners last August, jail medical services expert Dr. Mark Stern said privatization is projected to be more expensive than a county-run system.

At the time, Wend said he was concerned privatization would invalidate the hard work his staff had done to build relationships with medical providers in the county.

Now, Wend said with his planned retirement in December, it would be useful to have medical staff who come in with experience.

“There’s too much to do in too little time for us to think we could do the job as well as them,” he said.

However, Wend said NaphCare won’t start until February, meaning the Skagit County Community Justice Center will have to manage with current staffing levels until then.

Stern said a private company will likely attract medical professionals faster because they tend to offer higher wages.

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