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.
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.