Elected officials approved a plan to increase medical and mental health staff at the Cleveland County jail following the recent deaths of three people incarcerated there.

After Monday’s vote, county Commissioner Rod Cleveland said the move is not a response to those deaths, but to the jail’s growing population. 

Last year, the jail’s average daily population was 541 detainees compared to 367 three years earlier, according to reports from the jail’s health care provider. Medical staff responded to more than twice as many sick calls and twice as many mental health needs in 2022 compared to 2019, the report shows. 

The unanimously-approved plan amends the county’s current contract with Oklahoma City-based Turn Key Health Clinics, which is being sued in three states by the families of inmates who died in their care.

There were no public comments and no discussion among commissioners about the proposal Monday. 

The amendment dedicates an additional $500,000 annually to jail health care effective immediately. Two new positions would help care for patients overnight and reduce the time a nurse can be the only medical staff at the jail, according to the amendment. And a mental health counselor would be at the jail five days per week, an increase of two days.

Norman mother and Cookie Cottage owner Shannon Hanchett and Noble grandmother Kathryn Milano were awaiting mental health evaluations in the jail when they died in December. 

On Feb. 24, 44-year-old Moore resident Joe Allen Sims Jr. died after he was found “hanging with a cloth wrapped around his neck,” according to a press release. He was arrested on Feb. 16 on suspicion of driving under the influence, driving with a suspended license, escape from an arrest and possession of a firearm, marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

The state medical examiner has not yet ruled on the causes of death. 

Commissioners did not discuss changing health care providers while considering the amendments because investigations of all three deaths are ongoing, Cleveland said. 

Founded by Oklahoma’s house majority floor leader, Jon Echols, Turn Key has provided care at the Cleveland County detention center since 2009. Its current contract with the county expires at the end of June. 

Cleveland said county officials are already discussing additional changes to the contract, which will be presented and voted on at a future meeting. 

Whitney Bryen is an investigative reporter at Oklahoma Watch covering vulnerable populations. Her recent investigations focus on mental health and substance abuse, criminal justice, domestic violence and nursing homes. Contact her at (405) 201-6057 or wbryen@oklahomawatch.org. Follow her on Twitter @SoonerReporter.

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