The Chelan County jail is installing new medical sensors in a dozen cells which will alert staff to any rapid deteriorations of an incarcerated person's health. 

Jail Director Chris Sharp says they're housing people who are detoxing from fentanyl as well those who don’t get regular medical care or have a serious medical condition. 

He says the jail population has grown sicker over the years. 

"The need of the individuals that we're dealing with now that we maybe weren't dealing with a few years ago is so severe that we felt like this was an avenue for us to be quicker and more successful in what we try to do every day, and that's saving lives in our facility," said Sharp. 

The medical sensors are about the size of a smoke detector and installed on the ceiling. They can detect rapid changes in heart rates and respiratory rates. 

The county's installing 12 sensors which will be placed in half of the jail's 24 designated beds for people needing a higher level of medical care. 

Sharp says the sensors will fill an immediate need. 

"We started off on a path, let's just go get 12 right now, because our average population right now is eight to 10, sometimes up to 15, but most of the time it's between eight and 10 that are on what we would consider a higher level of care, because they're in a detoxification process that could be extreme," Sharp said.  

The county purchased the sensors from Reassurance Solutions of Benton, Ky., for $73,800, which includes installation and annual maintenance. Ongoing maintenance will be about $10,000 a year. The sensors are expected to be installed by the end of spring. 

The purchase of the new sensors follows a decision in November by jail administration to also make Narcan, the nasal spray that treats opioid overdoses, available inside of each cell.  

For the last two years, it has been placed outside a cell door for staff responding to an overdose. Staff carry it on themselves too, and Narcan is offered to people when they are released from the Chelan County jail.  

In Washington, jail officers are not allowed to do cavity searches or use a narcotics-detecting canine to find drugs on a person. According to Sharp, Fentanyl powder, which the jail is seeing more of, also is not easily detected on a body scanner. 

About 75 percent of people booked into the jail are detoxing from drugs or alcohol and must receive advanced monitoring from staff. 

On a recent weekend, when 31 people were booked into the jail, 28 of them admitted to using drugs over the weekend. 

In 2022, the jail spent $159,183 on outside medical expenses, which includes dental, ambulance calls and hospital stays. In 2023, that number rose to $274,912, which was 27 percent over budget. The county has budgeted $250,000 for outside medical care in 2024. 

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