County could have to pay murder suspect's medical bills
JANESVILLE Rock County Sheriff Robert Spoden hasn't yet gotten the hospital bill for a rural Orfordville man accused of fatally shooting his neighbor in February.
But he is expecting it to be big.
According to Wisconsin Hospital Association data, the bill for hospital services for Daniel Bellard's stay at University Hospital, Madison, could be more than $700,000 if Bellard is in the hospital as long as Spoden thinks he might be. His stay could cost as much as the jail budgets for a year for physician services for all inmates.
That doesn't include the cost of surgeons or other physicians treating Bellard, 75.
Bellard has been in the hospital since Feb. 6, when police responded to a report of a shooting in Bellard's barn on West Stuart Road in the town of Plymouth. Deputies found Bellard's neighbor Christine Gestrich, 59, dead in the barn.
Bellard's wife heard the shot and went to the barn to find her husband holding a shotgun and bleeding from the head, according to the search warrant filed in Rock County Court. Bellard walked out of the barn and across the road to the couple's house. His wife called police, according to the search warrant.
While police were forming a perimeter around the property, they heard a shot. About two hours after the 911 call, police found Bellard with a severe, self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, Spoden said.
He was flown to the hospital in critical condition and was arrested the following week on a charge of first-degree intentional homicide.
The Rock County District Attorney's Office has not yet charged Bellard with a crime.
Bellard remains hospitalized in critical condition. He is ambulatory, can talk and is aware of his surroundings, Jail Cmdr. Erik Chellevold said. He is not stable enough to move to the medical facility at the jail or to a hospital in Janesville, Spoden said.
Police do not think Bellard is a flight risk, Chellevold said. He remains under police guard because he is charged with the most serious crime in Wisconsin statutes, Spoden said.
"While he may be in a hospital bed, my guess is the public would feel quite the opposite if we didn't have a deputy sheriff up there," Spoden said. "My guess also is the victim's family would have some concerns about that."
Bellard's doctors have weekly briefings with jail medical staff, Spoden said. The medical professionals will decide when Bellard can be moved, he said. Spoden thinks it could be a month before officials can make that decision.
According to Wisconsin law, county jails must provide adequate medical or dental care to stabilize inmates' health.
"That doesn't mean we provide care that's going to enhance their lives," Spoden said. "It means we have to provide enough care to allow them to be stabilized and recover from an illness or injury."
The law mandates health care even for inmates with health insurance, he said.
"When you are confined to the jail and do not have the ability to make your own health care choices and/or see your own provider, the jail has to provide care," Spoden said.
Rock County contracts for medical services at the jail. The county budgeted $785,645 for physician services in 2013. About $50,000 of that is in a pool for services not covered by the contract, Chellevold has said.
For hospital services, the average daily cost is $11,238 for a person needing surgery for a traumatic head injury in a Dane County hospital, according to Wisconsin PricePoint, an organization that collects data about hospital costs in the state.
That cost is for hospital services. It does not include physician charges such as those for a surgeon or anesthesiologist, according to the PricePoint website, wipricepoint.org.
The data and website are maintained by the Wisconsin Hospital Association.
The price is based on the average bills for all patients, whether they have private insurance, Medicaid or Medicare.
The jail would be billed at the Medical Assistance rate, Chellevold said. That rate is lower than the private pay rate.
Using the PricePoint cost estimate, Bellard's bill as of today would be $449,480. If he were in the hospital for another month, the estimated cost would be $786,660.
If the county is billed for Bellard's hospital stay, and if the cost is more than the county budgets for physician services at the jail, the county would have to take money from somewhere else in the budget to cover the expense, Administrator Craig Knutson said.
The county does not have an insurance policy to cover unexpected inmate hospital expenses, he said.
Deputies guarding hospitalized murder suspect around the clock
The Rock County Sheriff's Office as of Monday had spent more than $22,681 for deputies to guard murder suspect Daniel F. Bellard, 75, in his room at University Hospital, Madison, Sheriff Robert Spoden said.
A deputy rode with him in a helicopter to Madison, and he was arrested the following week at the hospital.
For the first few weeks, two deputies at a time guarded Bellard's hospital room for three shifts per day. Two deputies had to work at a time so they could take turns taking breaks and eating lunch, Spoden said.
The deputies are paid overtime to do the hospital room duty, Spoden said. To avoid overtime, Spoden would have to pull a deputy from patrol duty in Rock County, and he doesn't want to do that.
Starting last week, Spoden made an agreement with Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney for Dane County deputies to stop at the hospital and give Rock County deputies breaks, Spoden said. Since then, only one Rock County deputy has to be in Bellard's room, he said.
Rock County is not paying Dane County for the assistance, Jail Cmdr. Erik Chellevold said.
While in the room, deputies keep a log of who comes in an out. They monitor the length of visits and make sure no one brings in weapons or contraband, Spoden said.
The $22,681 includes only deputies' salaries. It does not include mileage, he said