Friday, July 15, 2005

Newest DMN Editorial-Dallas Jail Problems

Jail Blues: Now's chance to fix miserable health care

09:51 AM CDT on Friday, July 15, 2005




The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston wants out as the administrator of the Dallas County jail's health services. We can't say we're sorry to see it go.

DallasNews.com/extra

Full text: Report on Dallas County Jail Medical and Mental Health Programs
(3 MB .pdf file)

Summary: State inspection of Dallas County Jail
On its watch, the jail has resembled a petri dish for communicable diseases. UTMB misgauged staffing needs and failed to provide needed mental health services to jail prisoners. It's been a less than distinguished performance.

UTMB's departure, scheduled for when its contract expires in four months, is an opportunity for Dallas County commissioners to finally take responsibility for improving health care at the jail.

Health care will fall to Parkland Memorial Hospital, which already faces serious budget and staffing issues. Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher told The Dallas Morning News that she thinks the county could do a better job of providing mental health services and draw more from Parkland's medical staff.

She may be right, but this will take steadfast commitment and additional resources from the county. With 7,000 prisoners, the jail is the seventh largest in the nation. UTMB's performance demonstrates that it'll take more than crossed fingers to successfully complete this transition.

To their credit, county commissioners have urged Parkland to add as much as $11 million to the $14 million already budgeted for UTMB's services. That's essentially an acknowledgment that medical care for jail inmates could cost up to $25 million next year.

We hope that's also a sign that county commissioners are serious about addressing the jail crisis without carving the additional dollars from other portions of Parkland's budget. This is not the time to rob Peter to pay Paul. A tax rate increase may be inevitable.

The county commissioners control the budgets of both Parkland and the jail. It's their task to fix the problem.

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