Members of the public expressed their frustration to the Washington County Commissioners Court this (Tuesday) morning during a workshop on medical care for jail inmates.

Commissioners Kirk Hanath (left) and Joy Fuchs took part in a spirited debate regarding the future of medical services at the Washington County Jail at their meeting Tuesday.
(Josh Blaschke)

But they were not alone, as the Commissioners themselves made it known that the impasse between Sheriff Otto Hanak and Jail Medical Director Dr. Robert Stark needs to be resolved quickly.  Sheriff Hanak has banned Dr. Stark from entering the jail to treat inmates, resulting in costly trips to the emergency room.

Washington County resident Barbara Ross addressed the Commissioners saying the public deserves answers.



Commissioner Joy Fuchs agreed that transparency is needed in this situation.



Fuchs explained that the $400,000 figure given by EMS Director Kevin Deramus for the cost of emergency room treatment is actually an inflated number.

County Attorney Renee Mueller told the Commissioners that state law gives the Sheriff the authority to ban anyone from his jail that he wants to.  Mueller said the law also requires that the County provide medical assistance to the inmates at the jail.  Mueller said, “We need to decide how to go forward.  It’s not working…it’s broken.”

Sheriff Hanak was not at the meeting, but was represented by Captain Eric Hensley.  Commissioner Kirk Hanath asked Hensley if the Sheriff would abide by any decision made by the Commissioners Court concerning jail medical services.  Hensley answered that it would be up to the Sheriff to decide.

Hanath expressed his frustration with the impasse saying, “Spending one dollar more than is required is too much.  This has got to end.  The bottom line…it ends with the money.  My fiscal responsibility is to the taxpayers”.



The Commissioners were visibly frustrated by not being able to talk about the reason for the impasse between the Sheriff and the Medical Director.  Commissioner Candice Bullock said she was unsure of what they could talk about, and felt the workshop was premature due to internal unresolved issues.  Bullock did say she hoped they could at least make a decision today that would mitigate the damage being done.  Commissioner Don Koester said, “The doctor in the jail should be able to do his job.  I can’t say what I’d like to say.  It’s a tough situation.”

Following the workshop, Fuchs made a motion that the Commissioners sit down with the Sheriff and try to convince him to either let Dr. Stark back in the jail, or to take inmates to Dr. Stark’s office for treatment.  Dr. Stark pointed out that currently there are no medical personnel available at the jail to assist with treatment.  He said bringing the inmates to his office for treatment would just be a temporary fix, like patching an old tire.  He said the inmates’ medical records are kept at the jail, and would not be brought to his office.

County Resident Barbara Ross commented that the Medical Director is hired by the County, and not by the Sheriff.  She said “This is a dangerous situation for this man to have this much power.  It’s absolutely ridiculous.  Someone is being petty here.  This situation needs to be examined and changed”.

The Commissioners then unanimously passed Fuchs’ motion to sit down with the Sheriff and try to convince him to end the impasses with Dr. Stark.  They also voted to form a committee to explore how other counties handle their jail medical services, and to look at private companies that do it.

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  1. It seems almost as if the inmates have caught on to the situation. And are exploiting the county at our expense! Let’s compare apples to apples. How many inmates were cared for during last years time frame as opposed to this years time frame? I’d bet anything that this number has grown exponentially! And that my friends is another area in which parental guidance is required. NOW!

  2. Some of these comments seem to fail to consider the complexity of this situation. Sherriff Hanak has always had a solid reputation and while I do not know the man personally, I cannot believe he would take a step this drastic without having a good reason. He simply does not appear to be a petty man. I have to question why he would not appear at the meeting to discuss this, that does not seem right. He must sit down the county leadership and work to resolve this. If Dr. Stark is out of compliance with a rule or has done something wrong, a remedy must be found by either fixing the issue or replacing him. To even hold such a meeting with the Sheriff not in attendance seems somewhat pointless.

  3. By the end of March the cost to county taxpayers will be an estimated $600,000 for this jail medical situation, at current rate of $210,000 per month. Think of how many county road potholes could be filled, or law enforcement patrol vehicles or volunteer firefighter support could be done with that money!

    It saddens my family that the County Judge and court (who have the power to reign in the Sheriff during the annual budget writing) have allowed this to go on for so long. I realize that some wealthier people will say Washington County is affluent but the average person like me cannot afford this type of local government. When I write a check to pay my local property taxes each year….it’s a painful experience to begin with, and to now have a situation where over half a million dollars are being spent in three months on unnecessary jail healthcare for inmates is infuriating. Especially when my own health insurance is costing me a fortune! We need answers, or we need a new slate of candidates for sheriff, county judge and Commissioners Court.

  4. Get rid of the sheriff and the cost will go down. Whether it’s his jail or not, he was hired by us and can fired by us.

    There I fixed it.

    1. Have you though about getting rid for the county commissioner. That’s where the problem lies. The sheriffs department has always been low on the commissioner budget. We have one of the best sheriff ever. Wake up people, get your heads out of the ground

      1. And if the sheriff does not get every dime he wants in his budget, he’ll recruit an opponent for whichever member of commissioners court does not vote his way. This incident over medical treatment and who administers it is a prime example of his politics. It’s just too bad this incident didn’t occur last year- the sheriff might have drawn an opponent in the primary.

  5. I grew up with Dr. Stark and I have personally known Sheriff Hanak for 24 years. Both Sheriff Otto Hanak and Dr. Stark care very deeply about people and those whom they are charged with the responsibility of taking care of. The citizens of Washington Co. matter very much to these two men. You could not find a more honorable and honest lawman then Sheriff Hanak. He “plays by the rules” and gives people the benefit of the doubt. I know that this situation will quickly be addressed and worked out satisfactorily.

  6. Unless Dr Stark has done something to deserve to be banned from the jail there is no reason for this nonsense. And if Dr Stark has done something, then the public deserves to know what it is. I think the sheriff just got his nose out of joint about something and is throwing his weight around. It is time someone puts an end to this stupidity!

    1. Why is it broken? I think there is a lack of leadership at the top that has allowed it to become stuck in this expensive situation. This is like two youths in a playground fight but there is no mature authority figure on the playground to stop them from fighting. Say what you will about the past county judges, I feel they were strongly opinionated and would have stopped this behavior before it reached this point where we have a taxpayer bill of half a million dollars.

  7. The sheriff has always had these far-reaching powers. he’s an elected official and he’s only responsible to the voters. I’m sure doctor Stark is a good man but if the sheriff won’t let him in the jail it seems the most expeditious thing to do is hire another medical director. And since we all know the sheriff has this kind of power in any County in this state why would you pick this fight in the first place? Whether you’re for or against the sheriff the ultimate answer will come out in the next election. That’s how we answer these questions we have elections remember? Until there’s election please hire someone who’s allowed in the jail before we all go to The Poorhouse

    1. The Sheriff ran unopposed in the Republican primary, so if there is no Democrat candidate, he is in for another four years. There are ways to remove from office and this may become a need.

  8. We pay the Sheriffs salary. He is obligated to answer to the public in detail about this issue. If not, then he has broken the public trust and it is time for an interim election. We have a run off election in May, good timing. Looking into how for profit prison companies handle inmate medical services is a good idea, as long as it doesn’t lead to the county contracting with them.

    1. This lack of ability to meet and discuss the issues with town authorities, is ridiculous!!!,….if it cant be settled like adults then remove them both and start over with policies and procedures

    2. Android week pay the commissioner the judge and all the elected officials. Then theses other elected officials need to answer to us. Yes there’s a running off election, maybe we should look at the other elected officials and get them voted out

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