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Local jail celebrates partnership that’s improved inmate healthcare

Published: Oct. 14, 2020 at 2:20 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Not a single inmate at the McLennan County Jail currently has COVID-19 or is under quarantine, officials announced Tuesday, saying part of the reason why is a unique partnership the county has with medical staff.

“CorrHealth has provided us with information and teaching and guidance on how to deal with the coronavirus and everything that’s going on now," said Maj. Ricky Armstrong, McLennan County Jail Administrator.

At more than 160, Texas has had more inmate deaths related to COVID-19 than any other prison system in the nation--and yes, county jails are different than state prisons, however, what are some correctional facilities doing right that others aren’t?

While the McLennan County Jail has certainly seen positive cases among inmates and staff, not a single inmate who’s had COVID-19 has had to go to the hospital.

Jail officials say their partnership with CorrHealth is partly to thank.

“They’ve done an exceptional job for us," said Armstrong. “Our partnership is different than any others because we kept our nursing staff.”

This month, the jail is celebrating its two-year anniversary with CorrHealth, a unique agreement which allows medical providers to come in and work with county-employed nurses.

“Most of the private companies that come in and do corrections come in and takeover your entire medical department, including your medial staff," said Armstrong. "Sheriff McNamara didn’t want to give up our nurses and he ran on not-privatizing the jail, and that included our nursing staff, and so CorrHealth was one of the one that bid on us to just provide our medical providers and some supervision oversight on our nurses in combination with us, so it’s a unique model.”

That model and team has led to improved healthcare for inmates, Armstrong says.

“We have more medical doctors now, we have more medical provider hours," said Armstrong. "We didn’t have a psychiatric provider at all, CorrHealth as provided that for us.”

With the health of inmates and staff in mind, Armstrong says they’ve also been cleaning around the clock due to the pandemic.

“That’s all they (cleaning staff) do, all the common areas, all the bathrooms, any surface that may have been touched," said Armstrong.

The results speak for themselves, he says.

“Currently today (Tuesday), we have zero inmates with coronavirus, we have zero inmates on quarantine," said Armstrong. "Unfortunately, we do still have two officers that are out that have tested positive for coronavirus, hopefully we can get them back soon and see zeros all across the board on those stats.”

While the pandemic-caused shutdown of the court system in McLennan County has created a backlog of cases, Armstrong says they still have room at the jail in the event inmates test positive again.

According to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS), the McLennan County Jail is at about 70-percent capacity.

As of Monday, there were 180 jailers and 482 inmates with active COVID-19 cases across the state, according to TCJS.

To date--at TCJS facilities, not at prisons--there have been nine confirmed, and four suspected deaths related to COVID-19.

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