(The following is an excerpt from the third article in the three-part series of the TransBorder Project: Medical Claims and Malpractice in a West Texas Immigrant Prison. Read the entire article.)
In Pecos, inmate complaints about healthcare at the Reeves County Detention Center in West Texas are commonly dismissed as whining and grandstanding. “They don’t have to work, they have all their utility bills paid, they get to play five hours a day, and plus they get medical attention,” said one county official. “If only the whole county should have it so good!” When asked about the liability that the county may face if the inmates take their cases to court, County Attorney Alma Alvarez said she was not worried, noting that GEO and PNA had recently secured accreditation for the prison from both the American Correctional Association and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). After visiting the prison herself, she said that she is confident the medical care is up to or above standards. But she acknowledged that she never spoke to any of the inmates about the quality of medical care, but only to the administration. Concerning the prisoner complaints made during the riots, Alvarez said, “They want to be media stars. They call the media from their cellphones and tell these stories because they want to be famous. It’s like they want to be on American Idol.” Noting that she was of immigrant origin herself, Alvarez said she had little sympathy for the protesting prisoners. “They are living well in there. Just imagine if they were in prison across the border in a Mexican prison,” she exclaimed. But it’s the comparison to conditions just outside the prison that really annoys the county attorney. “Inside the prison they are getting medical care far superior to what most people of this county get,” she observed. “And they even want dental care! Go and ask people here in Reeves County when they last had their teeth cleaned.” What also bothers Alvarez and many Reeves County residents is that the rioting inmates were destroying county property that they the taxpayers would need to pay for. “This is going to cost us,” said county treasurer Linda Clark. “It will take away from the small profit we make on the prison.” The multi-million contract with PNA doesn’t seem to bother the county. Before 2002 the county subcontracted with local care providers and foreign medical graduates (FMGs) to meet its obligations under its contract with the Bureau of Prisons. However, concerned about mounting costs and worried about the renewal of the BOP contract, the county hired PNA to assume responsibility for all medical, psychological, and dental care. That contract is now costing the county nearly $8 million a year in addition to the $800,000 it pays in medical liability insurance. That’s a large sum in a country where one in three lives in poverty, and the total county budget is only $79 million. Reeves County pays PNA $5.85 per day per inmate for its services. While few county residents are aware of what they are paying in correctional healthcare, there appears to be widespread resentment that immigrant prisoners are getting better care then they as U.S. citizens and county taxpayers receive. GEO Corp and PNA have refused to comment on inmate complaints about the poor quality of correctional healthcare at the immigrant prison, and some two-hundred prisoners and their families vow to take legal action against the public/private prison complex.
Photo: Vernon "Trey" Farthing, founder and president of Physicians Network Association