Sunday, January 20, 2008

Prison healthcare on Senate committee agenda

The quality of prison healthcare will be back in the spotlight this week when the Senate Criminal Justice Committee takes up the topic. Here are the time and place details of Thursday's hearing in Austin (invited testimony only).

According to the Austin Statesman editorial board (Jan. 19), "nearly 2,000 inmates died over a recent four-year span, the most in any state in the country - even California, with its larger prison population." Mike Ward supplied an overview piece in preparation for the meeting last week ("Texas medical neglect cases stir concern about prison healthcare," Jan. 16):

From 2001 to 2005, federal statistics show, 1,933 convicts died in Texas prisons, more than in any other state including California, which had 1,672 deaths and has a larger prison system than Texas. California had 175,115 prisoners and Texas 172,889 as of June 30, 2006, according to the federal Bureau of Statistics.

Whitmire, D-Houston, has scheduled a Jan. 24 hearing of the Criminal Justice Committee to examine prison health care, which is provided by the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and Texas Tech University. Both universities declined to comment Tuesday.

At nearly 500 deaths per year, that breaks down to about one annual mortality for every 350 prisoners or so.

The point to make here isn't just to blame the UTMB, Texas Tech and the prison system for failing to provide adequate healthcare, though we know they do not. For taxpayers, though, each of those deaths represent an abnormally high set of medical costs leading to the prisoner's final demise. Even though prisoners with HIV/AIDS make up a small portion of the inmate population, for example, their prescriptions make up about 40% of TDCJ's pharmacy costs. The lifetime cost of treating an HIV positive prisoner easily heads into the range of six figures per person.

Just like in the free world, prevention and better front end healthcare leads to fewer overall costs. Every staph infection prevented, for example, saves thousands of dollars in unnecessary followup care.

One looming problem that will make prison health MUCH more expensive over the next decades: Elderly inmates tend to cost much more than younger ones, so super-long prison sentences inevitably set up taxpayers to foot those seniors' medical bills.

I'll be looking forward to hearing testimony at next week's meeting, but we've heard a lot about the problems before. The question becomes, are there solutions besides throwing massive amounts of new money at the system? That's all they could come up with in California, where court-ordered inmate health spending is now twice that in Texas, and it's the only solution I've ever heard besides living with the status quo until the court makes Texas do something. We'll see what Whitmire and the Lege come up with, though, for 2009.

See prior, related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

TYC is doing telepsychiatry to several institutions (Al Price, Evins, and West Texas)!

I can't believe they got somebody to agree to do it.

Anonymous said...

And i disagree with previous posts on these strings saying that telepsychiatry with juveniles is an acceptable practice.

Anonymous said...

Telepsychiatry is like having a Dr. at an execution. It is a contridiction in terms.

Telepyschiatry for kids in AD SEG would be the biggest boondogle I can imagine. Yet, I can imagine TYC trying it!

If psychiatric care is in short supply, it makes it even more important that every single dollar is spent wisely. That way at least someone might realize some benefit.

Health Care, like proper prison staffing is not cheap. Next time the politicians want to increase criminal sentences, they need to take a look at the bill that will eventually come due.

They cannot pay the bills now, how ever in the world do they expect to pay for any more foolishness?

Anonymous said...

Listening to the witness testimony during Senator Whitmire's hearing tells me that medical care is worse off than it was in 1990. The system has many problems that are generated by STAFF SHORTAGES. I remember when the Central Regional Medical Facility was approved to be built. Medical personnel stated that it would be very difficult to hire medical staff due to it's location (Outside of Huntsville). It was opened in 1990. The statements were correct.

Now I'm listening to Brad Livingston tell the committee that he would rate TDCJ as a 7 or 8 ; 10 being the best and 0 the worst. Whitmire Almost fell out of his chair!
Two other Doctors have been hired to evaluate the system (909 is already law). John W was right on when he asked if a study was really needed.

Let's get a working group together. That will work!

I believe the Chairman of the CJ Committee just put into the record the CYA comment again ("You need to tell us what you need; don't wait until something happens. ..").

And life continues.

Retired 2004

Dont Be Denied said...

If you know someone who is a jail/prison inmate with MRSA, please allow yourself to read this article and take action.

Contact your local Health and Human Resources website (by state) and get to know your local officials on this matter. We, as a community, can inform and prevent. The U.S. government does not provide medical attention to most prison inmates, unless it becomes an "inhumane" condition.

Anonymous said...

Many of the inmates at the Sky View and Boyd units look like 80 year old men when they walk. Most of the old duffers in these units are over 50, in poor health, on numerous medications, struggle to walk, and are a threat to no one. Maybe the time has come for the public to demand that the glaucoma eyedrops, cholesterol and high blood pressure medications these guys take daily be deducted from the salaries of the moronic parole boards, and let's start by docking the pay of Rissie Owens and the other TDCJ pinheads.

Dont Be Denied said...

The more dcumentation- the better. Pictures, inmate letters describing health conditions...infirmary records, these are the only things which make a difference VIA lawsuit. Prove they are inhumane!

Dont Be Denied said...

The Texas Administrative Code equates the term "outbreak" with "epidemic" and defines it as 'the occurrence in a community or region of a group of illnesses of similar nature, clearly in excess of normal expectancy, and derived from a common or a propagated source.' See 25 T.A.C. §97.1(11), (16). By September 1, 2009, DSHS will submit a report to the legislature concerning the effectiveness of the pilot program in tracking and reducing the number of MRSA infections. Currently, MRSA is not a reportable condition in Texas, yet it's listed under "Infectious Diseases." under the Office of Preventive Medicine, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Huntsville, TX.