LOCKPORT - The Niagara County Sheriff's Office plans to privatize medical services for county jail inmates as of Jan. 1.

Chief Deputy Thomas C. Beatty obtained approval for the plan from two County Legislature committees last week.

He said negotiations are under way with Armor Correctional Services, a Florida company that provides medical services at several jails, including in Nassau County on Long Island.

In 2010, Niagara County privatized mental health services for inmates, and this is a continuation of that trend.

It's presumed there will be savings from the move, but the price of the Armor contract is not yet settled. Armor was the lowest of three bidders "after we compared apples to apples," Beatty said.

The 2012 jail budget includes $250,000 for medical and hospital costs, $300,000 for pharmaceuticals and $315,935 for medical staff salaries. The Sheriff's Office employs four registered nurses and three licensed practical nurses, all of whom would be shed from the payroll.

The jail, whose capacity is 499 inmates, has space for an infirmary but not enough staff to operate one.

Beatty said one of the biggest medical costs the Sheriff's Office faces is the expense of taking inmates to local hospitals for treatment. Under the new plan, on-site dental care would be available, too.

The county already has a month-to-month contract with Eastern Niagara Hospital to provide a doctor for sick calls at the jail and a physician's assistant who works at the jail from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays.

Because of vacations and sick days, there are times when "we do run the risk of not having any health care providers in the jail," Beatty told the committees.

The county's contract payment to Armor will include the cost of a supply of medications.

Armor also will be responsible for any lawsuits filed by inmates over medical care.

"We don't defend it. We don't pay it," Beatty said.

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