Health Care for HIV-Positive, Other Texas Inmates Improves, Study Says; Advocates Question Findings, Call for Independent Oversight
The percentage of inmates in Texas who received health care -- including care for HIV/AIDS -- that met national standards increased from 40% in 1994 to 97% in 2003, according to a study conducted by prison officials and published in the July 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Houston Chronicle reports. The state in 1993 privatized the prison medical system and put Texas Tech University and the University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston in charge of providing care. The incidence of AIDS-related deaths has decreased from 1.5 per 1,000 inmates in 1995 to 0.2 per 1,000 inmates in 2002, according to the study. The study finds that privatization of the system, increased medical staff, improved technology and declining death rates among inmates with AIDS and other diseases have improved prisoners' access to care.
Disagreement With Study Findings
However, prison-rights advocates have called the study fraudulent, saying that the data is based on reports by prison health care workers and has not been verified by physicians outside the system because the prison medical system is not subject to independent oversight. Ray Hill, former Texas inmate and host of the Prison Show radio program, said that the lack of oversight has allowed the system to underreport AIDS-related deaths. Hill said that prison officials often do not test inmates for HIV and list AIDS-related complications, such as pneumonia, as a cause of death instead of listing HIV/AIDS. Hill added, "I have known inmates who have begged for HIV tests but have died before the tests arrived." However, Dr. Michael Kelley, director of preventive medicine for the prison system, said that Hill's allegations are false, adding that all inmates are tested for HIV after intake, unless they refuse. In addition, inmates can request additional HIV tests every six months after intake, Kelley said, adding that any HIV-positive inmate who "meets [HHS] guidelines for when to initiate therapy has been offered treatment" (Berger, Houston Chronicle, 7/28).