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Texas Contracts with Huntsville Hospital for Prisoner Health Care

On February 10, 2012, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice approved a $46.8 million contract with Huntsville Memorial Hospital to provide health care for the 13,900 state prisoners in the Huntsville, Texas area. This may be the first step toward the creation of a prisoner health care system based upon contracts with regional hospitals in a statewide network.

In 2011, the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, the health care provider for about two-thirds of Texas state prisoners, gave notice that it want out of its contract for prisoner health services due to escalating costs and mounting losses. In response, the Texas Legislature authorized the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to explore other ways to provide prisoner health care and to curb associated costs. The contract with Huntsville Memorial may be its first fruit. Prison officials claim that the contract may reduce their costs by up to 30% by eliminating the need to transport Huntsville-area prisoners to Galveston to receive medical care.

The contract will last for 3.5 years and obligates Huntsville Memorial to provide nine secure beds in a secure wing of the Walker County hospital, emergency-room services, medical imaging and outpatient surgery.

TDCJ executive director Brad Livingston said that TDCJ is exploring the possibility-of similar contracts with other regional hospitals in areas where prisons are clustered, such as Palestine.

Board member J. David Nelson of Lubbock called the contract approval "a landmark step" in reducing prisoner health care costs.

"It makes great sense," said Nelson. "It saves money. It engages health care providers in much closer proximity to the offenders and it takes advantage of competitive influences. I would encourage the staff to bring more of these contracts to the board."

According to Jerry McGinty, TDCJ's chief financial officer, the contract is worth about $13.4 million annually and will cover 10-15% of the state's prisoners. The annual prisoner health care budget is about $400 million. All of the Huntsville-area prisoners would otherwise have been provided health care by UTMB.

TDCJ is also negotiating a separate contract for Huntsville Memorial to operate an emergency room and specialty care clinic inside the Huntsville-area Estelle Unit.

Source: Austin American-Statesman

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