Sheriff: Cuts have left jail staffers at wit's end

Devlin Jr.

 Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr. told Otsego County officials Thursday, Dec. 10, that his problems with jail medical issues won’t end with filling a couple of nursing positions and overall problems with staffing are hurting morale.

“As all of you were enjoying Thanksgiving with your families, we had officers working 16-hour shifts,” he told county legislators during the Board of Representatives’ Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee meeting Thursday, Dec. 10. It was held via Zoom because of the pandemic and can be viewed on the county’s Facebook page.

The meeting marked another turn in the contentious relationship between Devlin and his fellow Republicans in county leadership positions over jail staffing.

Devlin and Lt. Daryl O’Connor, who oversees the jail, made impassioned pleas to the committee members Thursday, telling them of the need to fill four full-time vacant corrections officer positions.

The committee, however, only approved one part-time position Thursday; it will still have to be approved by the full board at its mid-December meeting, Monday, Dec. 14.

PSLA Chair Rep. Dan Wilber, R-Burlington, Edmeston, Exeter, Plainfield, told Devlin with the part-time position approved he will have 43 officer units, which is consistent with what the state Corrections Department has mandated. Devlin pointed to his monthly average of 1,200 overtime hours and repeated his request for more help.

The matter seemed to boil over into other affairs, as Devlin left the meeting quickly when Wilber asked his opinion about a petition to make Otsego County a sanctuary from guns laws. Devlin said he was late for another meeting and resented being given a day to form an opinion on the issue when the committee had been considering it for months. He and O’Connor then left the PSLA meeting.

Before the meeting got heated, Devlin told the committee he had candidates for one full- and one part-time corrections nursing position and increasing salaries seemed to help attract candidates. The Board of Representatives voted Wednesday, Dec. 2, to post the full-time listing over the recommended salary range to attract a candidate.

However, Devlin said retaining a jail nurse is different than hiring one, and neither would change his overall needs for medical care at the facility. He recommended the committee hear from PrimeCare Medical, a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania company that specializes in correction facilities and would handle every part of the jail’s medical services, including dental, prescriptions and mental health.

The service costs about $500,000, Devlin said, making the committee members wince, although cost savings would make the service a net budget increase of only half to 60% of that figure.

“I have been trying to get medical coverage for three years,” he said. “This is bigger than nursing issues.”

Devlin asked the committee to hear from PrimeCare next year and the members said they would invite the company to make a proposal.

Wilber said he would also like to hear an offer from Bassett Medical Center. Devlin said Bassett has laughed at his request for a proposal in the past because there is a nursing shortage regionwide.

Wilber asked him to ask Bassett again, which was about the time the discussion first turned contentious. It escalated as the staffing discussion turned from nurses to corrections officers.

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

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