Privatizing jail's medical services good move for county

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Jan. 7, 2017 at 5:12 p.m.

Late last month, Victoria County took a giant leap forward in providing health care services to county inmates when it agreed to privatize the jail's medical services.

University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, a well-respected medical facility, is expected to begin providing the service in February, once all the contracts are signed and employees are in place.

This agreement is a good move by Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor, the county commissioners and UTMB.

O'Connor, who has worked for years to find a better way to provide medical services, namely mental health services, to the inmates, championed the cause. We commend him for his continued commitment to that cause.

This agreement gives the county access to UTMB's network of specialized doctors, which could cut down on how often inmates must be driven elsewhere for care.

One of the most important things the agreement brings to the county is a board-certified psychiatrist, who will be available by tele-video conferencing software 24/7. The psychiatrist will have better expertise on what cost-effective medication to prescribe.

The jail will continue its relationship with the Gulf Bend Center in Victoria. The center also has a psychiatrist available to the jail through tele-video, but because of the high case load, the psychiatrist is not always available when needed.

UTMB has a proven track record of working with correctional facilities. For almost a year, Comal County has used UTMB's service with success.

Also, UTMB has provided the Texas Department of Criminal Justice medical service for 24 years, saving the state billions of dollars. It spent $11 per inmate per day. UTMB also installed the first electronic medical records system in a correctional environment.

The program was not touted as a cost-saving measure for the county in the beginning, but it can be in the long run if the county agrees to keep it.

The UTMB staff of nurses and other specialized employees will input medical records and dispense medication, among other duties, freeing up jail staff to take care of other jail operations.

The county needs to let the program's long-range potential for cost savings play out without getting caught up in the immediate dollars and cents.

Instead, they need to monitor the program and let it work so it can accomplish its potential to have a positive impact on the community.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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