Hays County commissioners discussed the possibility of introducing private medical services for inmates at the Hays County Jail during their meeting Tuesday.
Hays County commissioners discussed during their meeting Tuesday the possibility of introducing private medical services for inmates at the Hays County Jail.
Commissioners unanimously approved a proposal to allow the sheriff’s office to request pricing and options to bring more medical services on-site to the estimated 300 inmates in the Hays County Jail. Judge Bert Cobb was absent on medical leave.
“With the system we have, we send out a lot of inmates for services we would prefer to handle in-house,” said Julie Villalpando, Hays County sheriff designee. “At this time, no decision has been made, but we want to research to see if privatization would be something beneficial to the sheriff’s office as well as the employees at Hays County.”
According to the proposal, the sheriff’s office would be able to find a company to handle the health services and the subsequent administrative duties of the county jail. The company hired would be responsible for employing and supervising medical professionals to provide care for inmates. The services include medical attention for both physical and mental ailments and dental work.
The company would be responsible for the emergency care, skin testing and health education of correctional facility staff.
The proposal additionally states all potential companies should give a price estimate for salaries, medical supplies and waste disposal, among other expenses.
Commissioner Will Conley, Precinct 3, called the proposal “the beginning of a process,” and said this is an exploratory part of the procedure.
“At the end of the day, we may have something better, we may have something about the same or we may decide to stay where we are in how we’ve been providing services,” Conley said.
The proposal sparked protest among residents during public comment.
Resident Adrian Evans Stark said having a for-profit company working in the jail could negatively impact the quality of care and the county’s budget.
Stark encouraged the court to withdraw the proposal in order to allow more time for Hays County residents to learn about the option.
“The public needs to have time to learn about the direction the commissioners may wish to take,” Stark said. “This decision directly affects the public’s health in a myriad of ways, the scope of which neither the court nor the residents of Hays County have had time to consider.“
Stark said by privatizing medical services, the quality of care will decrease.
“It is impossible to make a profit on inmate healthcare without cutting corners on care,” Stark said. “Patient care is thereby degraded, and inmates die.”
Stark claimed Dr. James Chudleigh , the medical director at the jail, has not been consulted over privatizing the facility’s healthcare.
Resident Morgan Meltz said her son spent some time in jail, which caused her to become interested in prison-related issues.
“Public servants serve because they care about people, and they care about communities,” Meltz said. “Private companies care about the bottom line. They’re there to make money.”
Meltz encouraged the court to “slow down” and to “look at the issue” in order to get advice on how to implement private medical services.
“There’s a lot of information out there,” Meltz said. “A lot of people have privatized health services in jails, and a lot of them pulled those contracts.”