JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — Washington County, Tennessee Sheriff Keith Sexton spoke at Monday night’s commission meeting regarding a Ballad Health bill that once surpassed $2 million.

Though the sheriff revealed during a press conference earlier in March that the bill had been slashed in half and later brought down to a little over $300,000, the sheriff’s office does not have the necessary funds to repay the debt, Sexton said during Monday night’s commissioner meeting.

“The facts are, there are no funds reserved in the sheriff’s office’s budget to pay this bill, and there never has been,” Sexton said. “These bills date back as early as 2018 and have been passed from year to year since, yet money has been turned in to the county at the end of each budget year by the sheriff’s office’s previous administration.”

Sexton said that a team worked to gain duplicate copies of unpaid medical bills and pinpoint the origin of each expense.

“We opened lines of communication with all the parties involved to make a plan for payment,” Sexton said. “The systems to identify and track inmate medical bills from entry into our jail until exit from our jail are being revamped.”

This entails using a system called Zuercher to track inmate medical bills and records moving forward. The department also plans to purchase another tracking software to track all inmates’ medical procedures that take place during their stay at the Washington County Detention Center.

Sexton continued, revealing the WCSO has not received a reimbursement from the state in nearly three years.

“It’s a sheriff’s office management problem,” he said. “When we have a state inmate that goes to the hospital, and if his bill is $10,000, if we file for reimbursement, [the state] pays back 9,000; we’re only responsible for a thousand.”

Ballad CEO and President Alan Levine addressed the situation on Twitter Monday as well, saying the original $2-million bill did not appear without warning. Levine said the payment demand followed several years of inquiries left unanswered by the sheriff’s office.

“It is not accurate to portray the current situation with the amount owed to @BalladHealth as though Ballad just dropped a $2 million bill on the Sheriff for serving inmates of the County jail,” Levine tweeted. “This is an issue that has been a problem for several years.”

Leighta Laitinen, a candidate for Washington County Sheriff and former chief deputy of the department, took on the role of interim sheriff at the beginning of September in 2021, following former Sheriff Ed Graybeal‘s early retirement. She told News Channel 11 in a March 15 interview that she and her team had negotiated the bill cuts with Ballad before commissioners appointed Sexton to fill the remainder of the sheriff’s term.

Laitinen claimed the WCSO had not received any bills and that “they were going directly to the contract medical company.”

“They were not sending them to us,” she said. “When we found that out, that’s when Ballad Health called us and said, ‘You all owe us $2 million.'”

Levine, however, said the health system had tried numerous times in the past to work with the sheriff’s office regarding the medical bills that dated back to 2018 before sending a letter demanding the payment for millions of dollars in debt.

“As our records indicate, we have attempted to work in good faith with the Sheriff’s office for a few years before taking the serious step of sending a demand letter,” Levine tweeted. “[The demand letter] was a last resort, and a step we took because we were simply not getting a response or closure.”

He concluded by adding that the health system knows the issue can be resolved and that the entities will be able to move forward.

“Our law enforcement officers are heroes, and it would be our strong preference for the County Commission to be focused on how we can all help them do their jobs as opposed to past administrative issues in the Sheriff’s office,” Levine tweeted. “…[We] look forward to our ongoing partnership with the Sheriff and County Commission as we all remain dedicated to the best quality of life for our community.”