One week after appearing before Cuyahoga County Council's Public Safety and Justice Affairs Committee and criticizing jail director Ken Mills for nursing shortages, the Interim Director of Ambulatory Care at the jail, Gary Brack, was placed on paid leave by the county.
Brack is actually an employee of MetroHealth, which handles medical care at the jail facilities. That care, and the nursing shortage, were a main focus of the committee meeting. It turns out the recently opened Bedford facility, which opened on April 6, doesn't have any nurses. Neither does the Euclid facility, and the main jail downtown is understaffed by at least six.
Council wanted to know just how the hell that happened, especially as the county has marketed its jail operations to other communities with the idea of taking on their prisoners.
"We just started taking Cleveland's fresh arrests on the 14th, and that's when it became critical," Mills told council. "HR has made offers, and some were accepted yesterday."
Mills said the pay range the county offers for nurses, which falls $6 to $7 below industry standards, is part of the problem in attracting staff.
Councilman Michael Gallagher wasn't buying the explanation, at least not wholly.
"It's been a problem for awhile, and we're just looking at it?" he said. "If it's a historic problem why are we just dealing with it? I'm not placing blame, but if we've been below marking, and know how many inmates we have, and that we're expanding and marketing our product, how can we be out there asking communities to participate in a regional program when we're not ready?"
Mills responded, "It's been my understanding... you're right, we need to have people, we need to have the staff."
Councilman Dan Brady then chirped in with a direct question that no one seemed to have an answer to: "Who's in charge? Because we're asking for an emergency allocation for something that we've known about for months and months and months."
Metro handles the county jail's medical operations and its contract has the hospital's leadership dealing directly with Sheriff Pinkney, who Metro seems to have a healthy amount of respect for. Metro doesn't actually hire the nurses, though. That comes under the auspices of jail director Ken Mills, with whom the hospital's jail leadership seems to have a chillier relationship.
Jane Platten, Metro's chief of staff for jail services, said that while the Sheriff approved the budget and nurse staffing recommendations for the jail, Mills had blocked the hires.
“There are paper trails of conversations about hiring nurses that we were told, in writing, by director Mills that the county would not be hiring nurses that we recommended that we needed,” she told council.
Brack joined her, adding that while the payscale offered by the county for nurses was a problem, recruiting wasn't the main problem. He characterized Mills as an obstructionist and described the relationship between the nursing staff and jail leadership as "tumultuous."
"The Sheriff approved these positions, but the positions never went through," Brack said. "There was comment by Director Mills that talent acquisition is the problem. It's not. We have a nursing crisis at the jail, and while pay is a factor, the relationship we have with Ken Mills... MetroHealth is constantly left out of the plan. There was no knowledge of the plan in Euclid or Bedford. There seems to be a passive aggressive behavior, because what [Mills] tells us doesn't pan out. The hiring requests for Euclid haven't been fixed. There are six vacancies in the main jail. And while the new hires are onboarding for May 29, there's really still no staff for Bedford or Euclid. We're not competitive with our rates, and the numbers we're allowed to hire seem to change."
A source told Scene Brack had since been relieved of his duties, which was confirmed by Cuyahoga County spokesperson Mary Louise Madigan this morning who said the county requested Brack, who is now on paid leave, be removed because of a "lack of trust."
Brack told Fox 8 he might be reassigned at Metro and stands by what he said, noting it was important to share for both inmates and taxpayers.
You can watch the whole meeting below. Brack appears at the 39-minute mark.