A private company will begin providing health care for Union County Jail inmates April 1, saving the county about $140,000 and bringing increased services and staff hours to the jail. County commissioners Monday unanimously approved a contract with Tennessee-based Prison Health Services (PHS), one of three firms vying for the job. The company is the nation’s largest private provider of inmate health services and serves jails in Mecklenburg and Gaston counties. But PHS has been under fire for some of its dealings in other states, where critics have accused it of providing subpar care. Commissioners and County Manager Mike Shalati expressed confidence in the Union plan, however, and praised Sheriff Eddie Cathey for taking steps to save the county money. The jail infirmary serves a vital need in often-difficult circumstances, Cathey said, noting that he has no problems with the way the current staff has performed. But costs there have increased $295,000 — 102 percent — since July 2002, Cathey said. Even as the jail’s average daily population has fallen — from 254 in 2003 to 226 in 2004 — per-inmate health costs rose 20 percent.