Hays County Jail could privatize medical care for inmates

Hays County is considering whether to privatize the medical care it provides to jail inmates.

On Nov. 13, the Commissioners Court voted unanimously to solicit proposals from outside vendors. The contractor would administer a range of medical treatments and routine care, administering health screenings for new inmates, managing prescriptions and other medication, and referring patients to outside medical facilities when appropriate, among numerous other responsibilities specified in the county's proposal request documents.

"The proposal that the Sheriff's Office is entertaining is seeing if any third parties are available out there that they believe can provide a higher level of service than is being provided today at the current policy, maybe at some savings to the county," Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley said.

If the county receives an acceptable bid, the contract would require approval of the Commissioners Court, he added.

"This is the beginning of the process," Conley said. "It is certainly not the end and certainly not the last time this Commissioners Court will see this issue."

State law requires that jails provide medical care to inmates in their custody. Hays County maintains a 362-bed jail with an inmate population that typically ranges from 300 to 320 people, according to documents provided to commissioners. About 15 percent of the prisoners are women.

The jail's medical expenses have decreased about 5 percent in recent years, from $875,200 in the 2010 fiscal year to $830,600 in 2011 and $828,500 in the 2012 budget year ending in September.

The proposals are due Dec. 14, and the Commissioners Court could vote whether to go through with the privatization in early January. The medical services provider would begin providing on-site services in February, according to information provided to the court.