SPECIAL REPORT: Taxpayers Foot Bill For Inmate Illnesses at the Hidalgo County Detention Center

Thursday, November 3, 2011 - 8:26am

Beyond the barbwire fence surrounding the Hidalgo County Detention Center is home to some the valley's worst criminals. Smugglers, rapists and murderers.
One thing you may not know is that a lot of inmates have serious medical conditions. Sheriff Lupe Trevino gave us a rare look inside of the jail where over ½ a million dollars a year goes to fully staffed infirmary.

"The medical cost for the facility is quite high," said Sheriff Trevino. "I don't have a choice, I must provide for medical treatment."

The sheriff says he's obligated by law to care for sick inmates until they go to court. Over 100 inmates are treated daily.

"It can start with a basic cold to head aches," said registered nurse Eliza Cantu. "We have people who are diabetic. Asthma and high blood pressure. We have people that might even have HIV, cancers."

Inmates with serious conditions are kept away from the general population. That way the medical staff can keep a close eye on every case. Potential outbreaks can cause a huge problem for the detention center.

The infirmary is also equipped with several pressure cells for patients with open wounds or tuberculosis. The infected air is pushed out of the cells and away from other inmates and staff members. Those who test positive are isolated in here until they're cleared by the Health Department. Even though testing for the dangerous disease isa necessary precaution it can still be very expensive. Adding on to a very large price tag for inmate patient care.

The infermery treats just about anything but the problem is is that the majority of these patients have pre-existing conditions. Sheriff Lupe Trevino says tax payers shouldn't have to foot the bill.

A patient infected with HIV can cost up to $1,000 a month in care. Which can put a dent in the jail's budget.
This year tax payers spent over $10,000  treating HIV patients at the jail. Something the Sheriff says just doesn't seem right.

One of the biggest costs in the budget comes from another serious condition. Almost $60,000 in taxpayers dollars went to behavioral services this year. Not to mention the $41,000 spent on psychiatric medication.
Hundreds of inmates receive several pills a day. Sheriff Trevino says its another unfair cost.

"I think if an inmate is here because he violated the rules of our society, and can't live within the rules and laws that everyone else abides by, then he should have to pay for his own medical treatment," said the Sheriff.

Newscenter 23 wanted to see if there was any other funding available to alleviate costs for taxpayers. So we sat down with Hidalgo County Criminal District Sttorney Rene Guerra to find answers.

"When you're dealing with human beings, I often see that when you try to save a penny it often costs us more," said Guerra.

Guerra says if sick inmates arent't taken care of, the county is liable and the majority of the jail population is indigent. Ee found out the count does receive some funding from indigent healthcare but the Sheriff says it's not enough.

Every human being, in jail or not, does deserves medical attention. Until there's a better way to pay for sick inmates in Hidalgo County, your taxpayer dollars will continue to fund sick smugglers, rapists and murderers.

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