HomeInsuranceRockingham County Sheriff’s Office finds new insurer; premiums doubles, deductibles 20 times...

Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office finds new insurer; premiums doubles, deductibles 20 times higher

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — The Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office has found a costly solution after Travelers Insurance dropped the Rockingham County Detention Center as a customer.

News broke on June 5 that Travelers Insurance had denied the Rockingham County Detention Center law enforcement liability coverage due to a history of deaths at the facility that had not been properly reported to the insurance company.

On Friday, the county announced that the sheriff’s office had secured coverage from Kinsale and Indian Harbor Insurance. The premiums, which had been $161,054, will increase by more than double to $351,906.29, and the deductible, which had been $10,000, will increase to $200,000 per incident.

According to a statement from the board of commissioners, the county learned of the new costs after approving the 2024-2025 budget, “forcing commissioners to find funds to cover added cost caused by the sheriff.”

To cover the cost, the commissioners will draw from the inmate canteen fund, which collects revenue from movies, video games, text messaging and snacks. The county says these revenues have increased “rapidly” in the past few years.

“Unfortunately, funds for any deductibles that may be needed will further reduce funds available for services benefiting taxpayers,” the county commissioners said. “The increase is expected to be a multi-year issue with the overall financial burden on the citizens being an unknown at this time.”

County commissioners approved funds to increase medical care at the jail to 24/7 coverage.

Southern Health Partners currently provides 102 hours of medical staff coverage in the jail during the week. With the new increased coverage, it will go up to 170 hours.

“You would have four nurses working 12-hour shifts, and then there is what we call an overlap nurse, which is usually the manager of the site,” Southern Health Partners Regional Manager Bridgette Woodcock said.

11 people have died at the jail over three years. Some were listed as a result of overdoses, medical deaths and​ suicides.

”Someone asked me … ‘Are we having more suicides here than we have … in other jails?,’” Rockingham County Commissioner Houston Barrow said.

“I think it is pretty much the same across the board. It’s just the matter is: It’s not always being released,” Woodcock said.

The sheriff hopes the increased medical care will prevent inmate deaths.

“We’ve seen more and more inmates coming to our jails with substance use disorder, with mental health issues, with medical issues because they’re not taking care of themselves,” Page said.

Travelers Insurance will continue to keep the county’s insurance for all other liability policies, including the sheriff’s office vehicles.

While two new insurance policies have been identified to cover the jail, the county’s safety and risk manager said Travelers Insurance would be willing to cover the county after 12 to 20 months of improvement at the jail to ensure the county is not a high claimant.

The sheriff and the county’s safety and risk manager plan to meet with the new insurance companies to see what is required to maintain coverage for the jail.

Issues surface

A recent lawsuit by the family of Kyle Kepley, who died by suicide at the facility in May 2022, includes accusations of neglect, which sent Travelers’ attorneys on a deep dive into the jail’s past cases. They found incident reports dating as far back as 2021 were not being submitted to Travelers.

According to an email from Rockingham County Risk & Safety Manager Chris Elliott to Sheriff Sam Page, the detention center failed to notify the county of several incidents.

In all, the county filed reports for 11 deaths to Travelers Insurance dating back to 2021.

  • Four inmate suicides recorded during 2021-2022
  • Four other inmate deaths during 2023 and 2024
  • Inmate death due to cardiac arrest in October 2023
  • Inmate death due to medical issue in October 2023
  • Inmate death due to medical issue in March 2023

These incidents took place prior to Colonel Grey Smith taking the helm.

Elliott states that when issues arise, the county manager, county attorney and risk manager should all be notified. The county attorney recommended the following protocol for any time employment practices or an incident resulting in injury to or death of an inmate could rise to legal action:

  • Immediately notify the county manager and county attorney and risk manager; 
  • Make two notebooks containing:
    • A complete report of the inmate jail intake record and booking report including photos
    • Records of detention officer rounds
    • Records and reports of EMS calls
    • Videos from jail cameras

One of these notebooks must be sent to the insurance company with the notice of the jail injury or death.

Travelers will continue to keep the county’s insurance for all other liability policies, as well as sheriff’s office vehicles. Deductibles for sheriff’s office vehicles, however, will increase from $1,000 per accident to $2,500 per accident.

The sheriff’s office was given until July 1 to find new coverage for the jail.

Page shared a letter directed to County Attorney Clyde Albright on June 10, claiming that the sheriff’s office never received direct communication from Travelers Insurance about reporting inmate deaths.

In his letter, Page emphasized the ways that the jail has worked to ensure inmate health and safety, including a variety of trainings.

There were 11 “non-suspicious” inmate deaths from 2021 to 2024, Page said, and the NCSBI and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Jail Inspectors Division investigated each case.

Page said Elliott notified him in May that Travelers Insurance wanted a new incident and inmate death notification process. The sheriff says he agreed to this.

“You need to note that this has been the only request that I have received that I am aware of from any insurance carrier in 25 years as your sheriff,” Page said.”… We rely upon our Risk and Safety Officer Chris Elliott to be our liaison with the insurance carrier for all notifications. Under the most recent change in insurance carrier notification we have agreed will honor their new request.”

The sheriff called recent reports that the jail’s “insurance carrier had not been notified regarding inmate deaths by the sheriff” were “totally inaccurate.” Page added that, in the event of inmate deaths, his chief deputy notifies the county safety and risk manager and county manager by phone, the jail administrator notifies the NCDHHS jail inspector immediately and follows up with a standardized inmate death jail reporting form, the chief of detectives notifies NCSBI for independent death investigations and the sheriff and public information officer issue news releases to notify the public.

In a statement following Page’s letter, the Rockingham County Board of Commissioners outlined the “expected process,” in which either the sheriff or a designated staff member notifies the county manager, county attorney and the safety and risk manager. The safety and risk manager would then notify the insurance company.

The commissioners say they learned about some inmate deaths that took place at the detention center from news outlets and media releases, but they say that the discovery was still within a reasonable time to notify the insurance provider.

In a statement, the commissioners included examples of incidents that were not reported in a timely manner, including “officers being suspended or terminated for activities that eventually resulted in criminal charges.”

Commissioners say that the county did not learn about those issues until several weeks after the initial issues were known within the sheriff’s department. However, they were informed shortly before the officers were arrested.

One instance included the insurance provider informing the county about an alleged sexual relationship between an employee of the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office and an inmate outside of the jail during the investigation of a claim.

The commissioners emphasized that they do not have authority over the sheriff’s department or its employees and that the sheriff’s office is not obligated to inform the county of the reason it decides to discipline or terminate an employee.

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The sheriff’s office does, however, have an obligation to inform the county of issues like the ones mentioned in their statement which cause the potential for liability in an effort to minimize the burden on Rockingham County taxpayers, according to the commissioners.

The county commissioners compared the sheriff’s obligation to the obligation of two people who are involved in a car crash to exchange insurance information.

The board reported that Elliott is “working diligently to minimize the impact on taxpayers” and that Page “has been encouraged to adopt procedures to ensure claims are timely reported to county administration.”

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