Wes Murray, Texas County Memorial Hospital chief executive officer, wrote a letter to officials of Texas County in response to their rebuttal published in area newspapers in December of last year.
Here is his statement:
The TCMH Board of Trustees and I commend the Texas County commissioners for focusing on the proper Missouri Statute that directs the county on how to handle healthcare expenses of prisoners, but we firmly disagree with the county’s position. The statute is Title XIII, Correctional and Penal Institutions, Chapter 221, Jails and Jailers, specifically Sections 221.070 and 221.120. It is important to note these sections exclusively direct counties, and no one else.
We fully agree that the jailer is obligated to procure (obtain) medical attention for prisoners and that the prisoner is ultimately responsible for the expense, as this statute states. However, the commissioners stop short in understanding the full scope of their responsibility.
Specifically written for the county to abide by, Section 221.120 of this statute states, the cost of medical attention shall be paid by the prisoner with any health insurance they may have, and if they do not have health insurance then the assets of the prisoner may be subject to levy under court order to satisfy the bill in accordance with Section 221.070. This Section (221.070) states that every person in jail shall bear the expense of being supported while in jail, including expenses for medical attention, as referenced by the previous section.
It further states that if a prisoner has not paid all the money owed to the county jail upon release then the sheriff may certify the amount of the outstanding debt to the court system. This debt is explicitly referred to as “debt to the county jail.”
It is very clear this statute is written only for county commissions to use. It is very clear the county jailer is required to obtain medical attention for prisoners. It is very clear the county has authority to seize assets and property to pay expenses to support prisoners while in jail. It is very clear that the cost of medical attention is included in this expense and it is very clear this expense is considered debt to the county.
Nowhere does it state this statute gives direction to the hospital. Nowhere does it state medical attention given to prisoners is free. Nowhere in this Statute does it state the hospital can seize prisoner assets to pay their debt. Nowhere does it state this debt is considered the hospital’s debt, and nowhere does it state the county can willfully disregard their responsibility by continuing to use hospital services knowing full well they have no intention of paying for it.
On Dec. 5, 2019, a Missouri Court of Appeals ruling confirmed that county commissions are responsible for appropriately funding healthcare for those in jail, under this statute. It is our sincere hope the Texas County Commission will understand its full obligation and stop shifting the burden of their responsibility to their local hospital and just follow the law.