Orange County Judge Brint Carlton Thursday appeared before the Press Club of Southeast Texas in Beaumont to update members of the media on county issues and some of the solution
The Orange County Jail, which has been in the news because of the loss of a $3.2 million lawsuit involving an inmate’s death, recently had a surprise inspection from the Texas Jail Commission, he told the group. “No deficiencies were reported,” he said.
The jail has had five deaths in about five years, he said. The most recent was a woman in February who was found hanging in her holding cell. She died at a Beaumont hospital.
He said he learned about the death by reading the media. No one from the sheriff’s office has reported to the judge or county commissioners on the death. He said he has asked, but was told “it’s under investigation.”
The county had to pay $3.2 million to the family of Robert Montano, who died in the jail in 2011. The federal jury decision was upheld in appeals court and the county paid cash.
Carlton, who took office in 2015, said the county did not have liability insurance on the jail at the time, but now has it. The policy will pay up to $3 million in damages plus the insurance company will provide legal representation.
The county was able to pay for the liability policy through savings. He said the county was paying insurance for a number of properties that the county no longer owned. An audit of properties showed the problem. The savings from the property insurance was able to pay for the liability.
On the year anniversary of the Sabine River Flood, Carlton said the county chalked up $580,000 in overtime pay during the disaster with $490,000 of that going to the sheriff’s office. He said the county had a policy of paying double time to working employees once a disaster is called. Commissioners Court has changed the policy to pay regular overtime during disasters.
The county had about $82,000 worth of damage to its rural roads and work on repairs should be starting soon. The county collected 1,500 cubic yards of debris in the unincorporated areas and paid $84,000 for the disposal.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursed the county for some of the expenses. “It’s still taxpayers’ money, no matter whose pocket it comes from,” he said.
Orange County is also trying to get a hospital after Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas closed the one in Orange in January. Carlton said he and others were “blindsided by Baptist Hospital’s announcement.”
Citizens recently submitted a petition signed by voters calling for an election to establish a separate public hospital district. Carlton said he turned the petition over to the county’s election administrator. The office of the Texas secretary of state, which oversees elections, has asked for more information on the people who signed the petition. He expects an election to be held in the summer.
Based on information from Baptist Hospital on losses, he estimates a hospital district could operate with a tax rate of about eight cents per $100 valuation. He said a private interest is considering a “micro-hospital” with one to four in-patient beds plus an emergency room.
Currently Acadian Ambulance Service must take people in emergencies to a hospital in Beaumont or Port Arthur. Each route includes traveling over busy bridges on highways with frequent collisions that stop traffic. Carlton said the ambulances must take patients to an emergency room connected to a hospital with in-patient beds.
Two local free-standing emergency clinics are not able to accept Medicare or Medicaid because the rules require the connection to a hospital with in-patient beds, he said.