Otsego raises pay rate to find nurse for county jail

Devlin

Otsego County will take steps to staff hard-to-fill nurse positions in the Otsego County jail in the town of Middlefield.

As part of a consent agenda Wednesday, Dec. 2, the county’s Board of Representatives unanimously approved posting for a vacant corrections nurse position at a salary that is more than the established pay-grade rate in the county.

The conversation stemmed from a request from Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr. to outsource the county jail’s medical services. However, when county officials researched the idea, they found it would be much cheaper to hire a full-time nurse at above the established pay rate than outsource the work, Rep. Daniel Wilber, R-Burlington, Edmeston, Exeter, Plainfield, told the board.

“If we go with an outside firm for medical, you’re talking a large sum of money,” said Wilber, who chairs the county’s Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee. “The problem we’re having (is) RNs are in demand. The correctional facility setting is a difficult setting to find someone that is comfortable working in, for a number of reasons ... and what we offer pay-wise is significantly lower than what an RN would receive on open market.”

The registered nurse positions have turned over frequently at the jail and require a nurse willing to work in that setting, which is hard enough without the pay disparity, according to several board members.

“This has been an ongoing issue forever,” said Rep. Andrew Marietta, D-town of Otsego. “I think we need to continue to invest. To me, this isn’t comparable to other RN positions in the county. This is a completely different environment and we need to pay accordingly.”

Rep. Keith McCarty, R-Richfield, Springfield, asked if the county could hire a paramedic instead of an RN. Personnel Director Penney Gentile said she wasn’t sure if that could be done, but maybe a licensed practical nurse could be hired instead. Wilber said he would talk with the state’s Department of Corrections, which establishes standards for sheriff’s office personnel statewide.

“The outsourcing was extremely expensive,” said Board Chair Dave Bliss, R-Cherry Valley, Middlefield, Roseboom, “so that does not seem like a viable option.”

Gentile said the jail RNs make more than other RNs employed by the county make and also make close to what an RN at Bassett makes.

“Now, the registered nurse working at a hospital certainly is a different environment than working at the corrections facility,” she said. “Certainly, if you want to be more than competitive, we can, but I didn’t want you to think the salary wasn’t competitive.”

Retention has been an issue for the position, but the county is also not finding applicants for vacant positions, Gentile said. She said Devlin told her he feels an increased salary is a big factor needed for luring new candidates.

“Obviously, what we have been doing has not worked,” Wilber said.

Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at gklein@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7218.

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