An ongoing impasse revolving around medical services at the Washington County Jail has seen resolution, at least temporarily.
Washington County Commissioners at their meeting this (Tuesday) morning approved former Jail Medical Director Dr. Stuart Yoffe to serve at the jail again on an interim basis, while the county determines how to proceed in the long-term.
Current Jail Medical Director Dr. Robert Stark is still banned by Sheriff Otto Hanak from entering the jail to treat inmates. While the county was without the services of Dr. Stark, inmates had to either be treated by Washington County EMS at the jail, or transported by EMS to the emergency room at Baylor Scott and White in Brenham.
County Judge John Durrenberger said something needed to be done about this issue, as it has gone on for too long. He said, while inmates were receiving medical attention, it is much more important for them to have access to a doctor.
Commissioners thanked Dr. Yoffe for offering to take on the role, with Commissioner Candice Bullock saying she fully supports this move. She said this will help resolve the jail’s short-term needs, especially pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic. She added that, as Dr. Yoffe has prior experience at the jail, he will not be “going in blind”.
Commissioner Joy Fuchs asked Hanak if there would be any issues with having Dr. Yoffe in the jail now, claiming Dr. Yoffe’s resignation roughly two years ago was because of Hanak not believing he was “the right fit”. Hanak disputed the claim, saying it was not true, but said he was not here to argue about that but to “continue jail medicine in a professional way”. He said he has agreed with Durrenberger’s decision to appoint Dr. Yoffe, and said he intends to go along with what Durrenberger has suggested.
Fuchs noted that Dr. Yoffe will not start immediately at the jail, as the contract with him will still need to be negotiated and executed, and the state will need to be properly notified. She, along with Commissioner Don Koester, said this decision is nothing against Dr. Stark, as he has done nothing wrong medically. Koester said he does not understand the full situation of what is happening at the jail, but there has to be a doctor there.
Dr. Yoffe previously offered to perform these interim services for $1,000 a month, but the details of this contract were not released.
Commissioner Kirk Hanath, who participated at the meeting via conference call as he is currently in self-quarantine with his wife, said the county cannot continue along its current path and needs to have cooperation and coordination will all sides. He said “I think we’re all tired of this, and I think we’re ready to move forward”.
Fuchs said it is ridiculous that this situation has gone on for this long, and criticized the lack of communication. She echoed Hanath’s comments, saying something had to be done for the jail and the inmates.
Hanak asked County Attorney Renee Mueller if the jail medical director is legally required to be a contract employee, citing personal research that says the medical director for a jail cannot be a county employee, which he said would lead to the county being in violation of government code. Mueller said the county has been in contact with an attorney with the Texas Association of Counties (TAC), who she said has never told the county that a jail medical director had to be an independent contractor. She added the TAC attorney has told her of other counties that have their jail medical doctors as county employees.
Previously, Hanak said he was forced to ban Dr. Stark from the jail after commissioners took too long to investigate complaints against him presented as far back as November. Durrenberger said those investigations, as alluded to by Hanak, are still ongoing.
Hanath also gave a brief update on his current status in self-quarantine, said he and his wife are symptom-free five days into their quarantine. Brenham Chrysler Jeep Dodge, where Hanath’s wife works, voluntarily shut its doors last week after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.
Also in session, commissioners:
- Accepted a bid from Traylor and Associates, Inc. for administrative services for the 2020 Texas Capital Fund of the Texas Community Development Block Grant Program of the Texas Department of Agriculture to support infrastructure improvements in Washington County.
- Accepted a bid from Strand Associates for engineering services for the 2020 Texas Capital Fund of the Texas Community Development Block Grant Program of the Texas Department of Agriculture to support infrastructure improvements in Washington County.
- Discussed, but did not approve, the use of Zoom conferencing software for extending commissioners court meetings to be accessible online. The item was not approved as the agenda item incorrectly said Tuesday, March 7th, not Tuesday, April 7th.
- Approved bond renewals for Reserve Deputy Sheriff Damon Wegner and Road and Bridge Field Operations Supervisor Vincent Hensen.