A policy change at Rapid City Regional Hospital will no longer allow employees to notify law enforcement when an 'inmate' is released from the hospital.
Hospital Administrators say it's a change in the way the hospital interprets HIPAA; the federal law protecting patient's rights.
Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom says the new policy will no longer honor a 'detainer'; where the hospital agreed to contact law enforcement when treatment was complete.
Thom says he's not worried because the new policy only applies to 'low risk' inmates still awaiting trial.
Right now only five percent of the inmates at the jail are considered low risk.
If a low risk inmate requires extensive care, Thom says officers will request a Personal Recognizance or PR bond. The bonds are a commitment from the person to report back to law enforcement after treatment. If the offender does not report back, a warrant for their arrest can be issued.
"I understand why the hospital made the changes that they did but it's not an increased risk to the community. It's a change in how we do business but we're not going to put people up there unsupervised or guarded if you will that are a flight risk or that could be a potential threat to the community," said Sheriff Thom.
Thom says inmates who are already sentenced will be guarded around the clock if they need to go to the hospital for treatment.
No one from Rapid City Regional was willing to speak on camera about the issue, but provided the following written statement:
"As far as we know, the practice is consistent across the state … HIPAA is a federal law and makes no distinction on whether a person is considered "high risk" by law enforcement. The distinction is whether the person is in custody or not. This is not an entirely new practice on the part of the hospital; it is simply a more strict interpretation of what is required for a person to be "in custody". We routinely review our policies and update them as needed."