The Hernando County Detention Center’s medical wing is ready to open as soon as the final touches are installed — nightlights.
The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office held a ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday for the new ward, built for about $1.5 million set aside by the County Commission.
“It’s awesome,” said County Commissioner Wayne Dukes, adding the improved conditions will benefit not only the inmates, but the men and women who work at the center.
“I’ve supported the addition the whole time,” Dukes said, adding cost of the medical ward was “well-invested tax dollars.”
“Things like this are only accomplished when we work together,” Sheriff Al Nienhuis said.
When the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office assumed command of the county jail from the private company Corrections Corporation of America, the second floor that housed inmates needing medical attention and supervision was in severe disrepair.
One cell did not have running water, and the limited facility meant nearly all medical procedures needed to be outsourced. With a total of nine cells, many inmates had to sleep in the halls or were prematurely released to general population.
After Congressman Richard Nugent, R-11th District, and Nienhuis cut the ceremonial ribbon, Medical Director Kristine DeKany gave a tour of the new medical building to government officials, sheriff’s office staff and members of the media.
DeKany said the ward can now house up to 36 inmates, and the layout does a better job at separating male and female populations, providing visibility and protecting inmates from harming themselves or spreading illnesses to each other.
With an average of 158 inmates observed per month for drug withdrawal, medical center staff can now more effectively treat inmates, DeKany said.
Better in-house facilities and the ability to perform tests and examinations means Hernando County residents are safer, said Major Michael Page. Previously, inmates needed to be transported with one or two deputies to a medical facility, which put “everybody at risk.”
Page said the more efficient and therapeutic medical building has not increased overall operating costs.
Nugent said the jail was a “lousy facility” when he left the sheriff’s office in 2010. “When I walked in today … this place smells better, looks better and operates better.”
Nienhuis closed with a teaser, saying the improved medical ward might open up the opportunity for the Hernando County Jail to house federal inmates.
“I had one or two (federal agencies) take a look at the facility … and left with a positive attitude,” Nienhuis said.
Page said the old medical floor, once rehabbed, might be used for youthful offenders serving sentences as adults.
There’s “no dead space,” Page said. We’ve “utilized every inch.”
Medical inmates are expected to move into the new building in the next week or two, according to Page.