Tag Archives: visits

Dr. Raul Pino Says “We Are Concerned, Very Concerned” About Surge in Coronavirus Cases, ER-Related Visits in Orange County

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings says he continues to recommend both vaccinated and unvaccinated people wear face masks indoors as coronavirus cases surge.

New coronavirus cases in Orange County hit January levels over the weekend with some 730 cases added on Friday, 651 on Saturday and 670 on Sunday. 

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings says with a rolling 14-day positivity rate of 11.2 percent he’d like to enforce a mask mandate, but his hands are tied. 

Demings says an executive order signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis outlaws all local government COVID-related mandates and restrictions. 

“This is a statewide issue and Floridians should hold the governor and legislature accountable for the continued spread of the virus in our communities. They hold the cards at this time.”


Almost all of the new cases reported in the county since Friday have been in unvaccinated people which is why Demings is also recommending vaccines to stop the spread.

Dr. Raul Pino echoed Demings when it comes to wearing face masks and practicing good COVID-19 protocols.

“We are concerned, very concerned where things are. Just to give you an idea, our numbers and cases are reflective of January of this year. So, in the number of cases, we are back to January.”

Pino says hospitalizations and ICU visits have stabilized in the area, but ER visits are rising again. He says most of the new coronavirus cases have been in unvaccinated people between the ages of 15 and 44.

One in 5 new coronavirus cases now comes from Florida.


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This post originally posted here Coronavirus Search Results

UPDATED WITH PICTURES- Prince Charles visits St Davids Cathedral on Pembrokeshire pilgrimage

PRINCE Charles completed his very own Pembrokeshire pilgrimage last Thursday, July 8, visiting St David’s Cathedral, St Brynach’s Church in Nevern and St Martin of Tours Church in Haverfordwest.

The visits were part of His Royal Highness’ summer tour of Wales. The prince began his visit to Pembrokeshire by joining the choir and congregation in St David’s Cathedral, to commemorate the centenary of the Church in Wales.

Prince Charles arrived at the cathedral to be greeted by Lord-Lieutenant of Dyfed, Sara Edwards, who then introduced him to the Dean of St Davids, The Very Revd Dr Sarah Rowland Jones LVO OBE, Sub-Dean of St Davids, Revd Canon Leigh Richardson, and the Senior Bishop of the Church in Wales, The Rt Revd Andy John.

The future monarch, last visited St Davids Cathedral when he formally opened the new cloisters in 2008. He also visited the cathedral with Diana on his royal honeymoon tour in October 1981 and on his investiture tour of Wales in 1969.

The prince visited the restored 13th century Shrine of St David in the Presbytery where he met the artists and craftspeople who undertook the 2012 restoration and signed the visitors’ book.

A keen horticulturalist, Prince Charles was very interested to learn about the creation of Erw Dewi – Dewi’s Acre, the Cathedral’s Community Garden and meet with leaders of the project.

His Royal Highness also joined a reception in the Cloister Garth where he was introduced to members of the cathedral and local communities.

After the service, the prince enjoyed a brief walk about and chatted and laughed with the crowds gathered outside the cathedral.

The Dean of St Davids said, The Very Revd Dr Sarah Rowland Jones said: “It was a joy to welcome the Prince of Wales here today.

“He clearly loves the Cathedral, having visited a number of times previously, and he was fascinated to see the Shrine of St David. St Davids has a knack of stealing people’s hearts, and drawing them back, whether consciously as pilgrims or not, and we hope we will welcome Prince Charles again before too long.”

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This post originally posted here United Kingdom News

Pope Francis visits with patients in Pediatric Oncology ward – Vatican News

The Holy See Press Office noted that on Tuesday afternoon Pope Francis visited with young patients at the pediatric oncology ward of the hospital. The department is located on the same floor where the Pope is recovering from his surgery just over a week ago. 

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This post originally posted here The European Times News

Duke of Cambridge visits England changing room after Euro 2020 final to share message

England were visited by Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, following their heartbreaking defeat by Italy on penalties at Wembley. Gareth Southgate’s side were beaten 3-2 on spot-kicks after the two teams drew 1-1 over the preceding 120 minutes.

Marcus Rashford hit the post with his attempt while Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka both saw their shots saved by Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Jordan Pickford made two saves, including from penalty specialist Jorginho, but Donnarumma’s save from Saka won it for Italy.

It was a cruel way to end a brilliant tournament for England, who reached their first European Championship final and first major final of any kind since 1966.

Things had started exceptionally well when Luke Shaw smashed Southgate’s side ahead after just two minutes.

But Leonardo Bonucci’s close-range equaliser from a corner ensured it went the distance and penalties once again were England’s downfall.

JUST IN: Euro 2020 final: 45 arrests made by Met Police

“I just said to them we could have no recriminations,” he said when asked what he told the players in a huddle on the pitch after penalties.

“We win and lose together. Nobody is left on their own. The calls on the penalties were my own. My decision to ask the players to take the penalties they did, so they have got to walk away from here heads held high.

“They’ve done more than any other team over the last 50 or so years. The players should be incredibly proud of what they’ve done.

“Tonight is hard, of course, because to get so close, you know those opportunities in your life are incredibly rare.”

Italy came into the game unbeaten in 33 matches and their shoot-out victory means they have now won six major trophies.

Localish Legends Visits Coney Island In Search of Summer Legends

NEW YORK — What’s your favorite thing about summer? Whether it’s taking the perfect vacation, heading to the beach, visiting a carnival, riding a roller coaster, or just chowing down at a BBQ, everyone has something they love about summer.

But what about the people who truly make summer legendary? We’ve found a few you may recognize!

On this week’s episode of Localish Legends, meet a skee-baller in Brooklyn going for gold, fair folks in Fresno with a passion for spreading cheer, a beach club in Houston bringing summer fun to disabled pups, a ringmaster in L.A. with incredible skills, and even a real-life mermaid named Cookie!

Who do you think should win the title of summer’s ultimate Localish Legend?

Watch more Localish Legends:

Author: CCG

This post originally appeared on ABC13 RSS Feed

United Wants to Charge You for ER Visits It Disagrees With

Responding to pressure from doctor and hospital associations, United Healthcare has postponed the start of its controversial emergency room visit review policy, which was scheduled to go into effect in 35 states on July 1.

Nevertheless, the nation’s largest health insurer says it still plans to stop paying for ER visits it decides are unnecessary.

“Based on feedback from our provider partners, we have decided to delay the implementation of our emergency department program until at least the end of the national public health emergency period,” United spokeswoman Tracy Lempner said in a statement to WebMD. “We will use this time to continue to educate consumers, customers and providers on the new program and help ensure that people visit an appropriate site of service for non-emergency care needs.”

https://twitter.com/Mcgrathew33/status/1403440948869173250

Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, the second largest health insurer, launched a similar program in 2017 in five states. Anthem is now defending this “avoidable ER” policy in a federal lawsuit brought by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and the Medical Association of Georgia. If Anthem wins that case, “they know that they can do it across the country,” says Ryan Stanton, MD, a member of the ACEP board and an emergency doctor in Lexington, KY.

So, despite the temporary victory for opponents of United’s new policy, millions of insured Americans may eventually face a new reality every time they go to the emergency room: If their health plan later decides they didn’t need to visit the ER, they’ll be on the hook for the entire cost of the visit.

“UnitedHealthcare is expecting patients to self-diagnose a potential medical emergency before seeing a physician, and then punishing them financially if they are incorrect,” ACEP President Mark Rosenberg, DO, said in a press release.

ACEP is not alone in its opposition to United’s move. A June 16 letter from 32 healthcare associations to United CEO Brian Thompson demanded that the insurer permanently rescind its new policy. Among the signers were specialty societies, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, America’s Essential Hospitals, the Federation of American Hospitals, the California Medical Association, the Pennsylvania Medical Society, and the Texas Medical Association.

“Prudent Layperson” Argument

The argument made by critics of United’s policy is that it violates the federal “prudent layperson” rule that goes back to 1997 and was restated in the Affordable Care Act. Under this rule, no one can be denied coverage for an ER visit if they think they’re having a medical emergency.

“Both Anthem and United Healthcare have said they’re complying with the prudent layperson rule. They’re not,” says Stanton. “The definition clearly says that a person of sound mind determines their emergency. The insurers are now saying that the prudent layperson isn’t smart enough to determine that this wasn’t an emergency. And they are going to try to save money off this by denying the truly non-emergent cases, such as the acne visit or the stubbed toe. But if they do what Anthem did, they’ll deny claims related to chest pain, abdominal pain and headaches — things that clearly need significant clinical evaluation.”

Stanton recalls that Anthem denied coverage when a friend of his in Lexington visited an ER.

“She went in with right lower quadrant abdominal pain, which could be appendicitis or something else. I advised that she should get a full evaluation, and it turned out that she’d ruptured an ovarian cyst. Anthem came back later and said, ‘That’s not an emergency.’ Well, she was balled up on the floor in the fetal position in extreme pain with a differential diagnosis that could have been surgical. So, they let us do all the work, and then they said it wasn’t an emergency.”

Under United’s policy, an ER physician can attest that a patient had an emergency condition after the carrier denies the claim. But in the meantime, the patient may get billed for the ER visit and may have to go back and forth with the insurance company, says Stanton.

Ateev Mehrotra, MD, an associate professor of healthcare policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School, says patients get stuck in the middle when insurers decide to second-guess their decisions to visit the ER.

While there is a real cost issue for hospitals and insurers when people go to the emergency room for non-emergencies, “I don’t believe that a retrospective policy to not pay for these visits will likely be effective,” he says.

“The most important reason is that patients don’t know before they make the [emergency room] visit whether this is a [non-emergency]. When you go in, you’re having symptoms, and you don’t know whether it’s a big deal or not. Then everything turns out to be fine, you go home, and your health plan won’t pay for it,” he says, adding that such a policy might discourage patients from going to the ER in the future

“If you get burned once, and you pay a ton of money for a visit, the next time you have similar symptoms, you might not to go the [ER], and that might result in harm to your health,” says Mehrotra

Alternative Care Settings

Insurance companies have long tried to get their members to avoid the ER when possible and to make less expensive visits to primary care offices, urgent care centers, or retail clinics, and to use telehealth services. According to an Anthem brochure for employers, the average ER visit costs $ 1,404, compared to $ 143 for an urgent care center, $ 124 for a walk-in doctor’s office, $ 72 for a retail clinic and $ 49 for a telehealth visit.

As Mehrotra noted, consumers understand that their out-of-pocket cost is also higher in the ER, with co-pays that can range from $ 100-$ 300. Already, an increasing number of people have switched to urgent care centers or other alternatives.

“The number of [ER] visits is falling, but the cost per visit has increased so significantly that the total spending … has gone up dramatically,” he says.

A 2018 study he co-authored showed that from 2008 to 2015, ER visits for non-emergencies plummeted 36% for Aetna members. During the same period, however, the average cost of ER visits for such conditions rose 79%. The insurer’s per-member cost increased by 14% from $ 70 to $ 80 per year, and that trend has continued, Mehrotra says.

Impact on Health Outcomes

The bigger question for patients and doctors is how these kinds of review policies may affect patient health. The COVID-19 pandemic offers some clues.

ER visits dropped about 35% during the early phase of the pandemic, primarily due to patients’ fear of contracting COVID-19 in the hospital. According to a study of Boston emergency medical services data, “delays in seeking emergency care stemming from patient reluctance may explain the rise in cases of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest and associated poor health outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Even without COVID-19 in the picture “we’ve found that when people pay more for emergency care, both low-acuity and high-acuity ED visits fall,” Mehrotra says. While he wouldn’t say that this reluctance to go to the ER may lead to increased deaths, he reiterated that the denial of ER visit coverage is not the solution to increased emergency care spending.

For more news, follow Medscape on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

Author:
This post originally appeared on Medscape Medical News Headlines

Spain: Testing rules tighten for visits to the Canary and Balearic Islands – FCDO advice

Some travel restrictions are in place for international transit through Spanish airports by passengers on flights departing from the UK.

The FCDO explains: “If you are transiting Spain by air from the UK you are not subject to testing requirements, however, you are required to complete and sign an online Health Control Form no more than 48 hours prior to travel declaring any known history of exposure to COVID-19 and giving contact details.”

Spain’s archipelagos were recent left devastated after they did not make it onto the green list at the most recent review.

Both the Canary and Balearic Islands had been predicted by experts as potentials for quarantine travel due to their Covid figures, however the Uk Government decided to make no new additions to the list.

Author:
This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Travel Feed

Elvis Presley: The changes made to Graceland when Lisa Marie Presley visits with family

For the first nine years of her life, Lisa Marie Presley spent much of the time living with her father Elvis Presley at Graceland. The King left the Memphis mansion to his daughter and in 1982 the home was opened to the public for tours. Even though Graceland remains an incredibly popular tourist attraction to this day, it’s still very much home for Lisa Marie.
During a recent virtual live tour of Graceland which Express.co.uk attended, archivist Angie Marchese shared details of what Lisa Marie and her family get up to when they visit, plus the changes made inside for their arrival.

The Elvis Presley expert said: “The family…do not stay here at Graceland but they do come here and visit.

“They don’t use Elvis and Priscilla’s china, we do have new china which we’ve purchased for Lisa to use when she’s here.”

Angie also explained how two extra tables are set up next to the one in Graceland’s dining room for when the family have meals together there.

READ MORE: Elvis’ Graceland Mansion virtual tour review: Thrilling step inside

During the tour, Angie guided the live stream camera into a largely unseen room by the side of Graceland’s kitchen.

Inside was Aunt Delta’s bedroom, where Vernon’s sister lived until her death in 1993 over a decade after tours began.

And inside the chest of drawers there, Angie revealed the storage place for the china that Lisa Marie and her family use when they visit the mansion for meals.

While back in Graceland’s kitchen, the archivist was showing off the oven when she explained another change made for the arrival of Elvis’ daughter.

Later on during the virtual live tour, Angie guided the camera outside The Jungle Room to the porch.

Here she revealed how Elvis’ grandmother Minnie Mae Presley liked to sit there, while Lisa Marie uses it to relax to this day.

It’s not surprising considering how quiet and peaceful that outdoor space is, overlooking Graceland’s horses.

After the tour ended, a fan asked Angie: “When Priscilla and Lisa Marie visit Graceland do they listen to records on the jukebox in the TV room and do any of the family members play either the piano in the Music Room or the one in the Racquetball court? And do they ever swim in the pool?”

Angie replied: “They have listened to music in the house, but not in the jukebox on the record players.

“I have never seen any of the family play the pianos. But we do keep them tuned and clean to preserve them as instruments in case they want to.

“No swimming in the pool either. Their favourite thing to do is ride golf carts all over the property.”

To find out more about Graceland’s virtual live tours, click here.

This article originally appeared on Daily Express :: Entertainment Feed

New Man Utd hierarchy given Haaland acid test after two failed transfer visits

Manchester United’s[1] newly formed transfer committee are set for their first major test with the reported visit of Erling Haaland[2]’s entourage.

The Borussia Dortmund forward has a £66million release clause in his contract, although that doesn’t come into effect until the summer of 2022.

That means Dortmund could earn significantly more than that, should they sell the Norwegian this summer.

It is believed Haaland’s father, Alf-Inge, along with agent Mino Raiola met representatives from Real Madrid[3] and Barcelona[4] on Thursday.

Following the meetings with the La Liga giants, Mundo Deportivo[5] claim the pair will visit England, with talks with several Premier League[6] clubs on the agenda.

Mino Raiola is set to visit England, along with Erling Haaland’s father, Alf-Inge

United are one of those, as the Red Devils look to complete a deal they failed to close when Haaland left RB Salzburg at the end of 2019.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was open in his admiration for his compatriot, but after meeting the player, he opted to join Dortmund.

Alf-Inge actually visited United’s training ground during the last round of transfer talks, ultimately deciding the German club was a better choice for his son’s prospects.

Friday’s meeting will be one of the first since Old Trafford bosses decided to reshuffle their deck behind the scenes.

Alf-Inge Haaland with son Erling, who is set to be one of the hottest properties of the summer transfer window
Alf-Inge Haaland with son Erling, who is set to be one of the hottest properties of the summer transfer window

John Murtough was named as the club’s first football director, while Darren Fletcher was handed the title of technical director.

Solskjaer explained it would be the Scot’s job to ‘sell the club’ to potential targets and could be vital in meeting Haaland’s travelling party.

“He’s got the Man United side but he’s been outside with different clubs, he has a bright eye for football, a really keen eye and has been following the development of the youngsters,” Solskjaer said, following Fletcher’s appointment.

Darren Fletcher and John Murtough will hope to get a deal for Haaland over the line

“So, for me, now we can combine these two and have more of an influence on the other side of it. Recruitment maybe, speak to players and sell Man United as the club he knows it is.”

Last year saw a similar visit, with Jude Bellingham making the trip to Carrington during the final months of his Birmingham City career.

Head negotiator Matt Judge accompanied the England midfielder, while Sir Alex Ferguson also stopped by to try and persuade him to make the move.

Unfortunately for them, Bellingham followed Haaland’s path and joined Dortmund. They will be hoping Fletcher’s influence will make this imminent meeting a great deal more successful.

Sign up to the Mirror Football email here[7] for the latest news and transfer gossip

References

  1. ^ Manchester United’s (www.mirror.co.uk)
  2. ^ Erling Haaland (www.mirror.co.uk)
  3. ^ Real Madrid (www.mirror.co.uk)
  4. ^ Barcelona (www.mirror.co.uk)
  5. ^ Mundo Deportivo (www.mundodeportivo.com)
  6. ^ Premier League (www.mirror.co.uk)
  7. ^ Mirror Football email here (www.mirror.co.uk)

[email protected] (Ben Husband)

Texas prisons stopped in-person visits and limited mail. Drugs got in anyway.

This article was published in partnership with The Marshall Project[1], a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system. Sign up for their newsletter[2], or follow The Marshall Project on Facebook[3] or Twitter[4].

Need to stay updated on coronavirus news in Texas? The Texas Tribune’s evening roundup will help you stay on top of the day’s latest updates. Sign up here.[5]

Last year, the Texas prison system unwittingly started a controlled experiment.

Agency leaders have long blamed[6] prisoners’ friends and families for a constant flow of drugs they say are often smuggled in through visits and greeting cards. To combat this, prison officials in early March set up new rules curtailing prisoner mail[7]. Two weeks later, they shut down visitation to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

Now they could see: Would the changes stop the booming drug trade in Texas lockups?

No, they did not, an investigation by The Texas Tribune and The Marshall Project found. Instead, staff members and prisoners say the problem is worse, and agency data shows guards are finding just as many drugs and writing up even more prisoners for having them.

The main source of the drugs, according to more than a dozen people who lived or worked in Texas prisons over the past year: low-paid employees in understaffed facilities.

“There’s more drugs than a year ago,” said one officer at a maximum-security unit in West Texas. “They’re finding meth daily — a year ago it was just here and there. … It’s so easy to get it in.”

She asked not to be named for fear of retaliation from the prison agency.

Half a dozen other staffers also said that the pandemic has made drug smuggling easier. Officers largely stopped searching each other at the front gate in part because of safety measures, and in part because they are too short-handed to do so anyway.

“The campaign to battle contraband is constantly evolving,” said Jeremy Desel[8], a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. In a written statement, he cited drones, mail and employees as some of the routes for drugs to enter prisons.

“The vast majority of TDCJ employees are dedicated individuals who strive to uphold agency values,” he added. “Just like any organization, there are those that decide to break with the ranks and not uphold expected values.”

Still, prison officials believe their new program to fight contraband is working. In the last year, Desel said drug-sniffing dogs and staff have stopped more suspicious mail and fewer prisoners have come up positive in random drug tests. He said people have found new ways around the system, like by pretending mail is from lawyers, blocking prison inspection.

At the Stiles Unit in Beaumont, officials locked down the whole prison to search for contraband in late January, nearly a year after the mailroom restrictions took effect. The searches turned up what prosecutors described as an “unusually large amount of drugs” including K2, cocaine, meth and items clearly too bulky to mail in — like marijuana, bags of pills, jars of alcohol and 74 cellphones.

So far, prosecutors said, no staff or prisoners have been criminally charged because many of the contraband items turned up in common areas and couldn’t be tied to any one person. But the spokesperson for the agency reported that it ousted 15 staff members over the incident, including 12 guards, and that a criminal investigation was ongoing.

Contraband “is going to come in one way or the other, and dirty staff is a big problem,” said Jeff Ormsby, who heads one of the state’s correctional officer unions. He blamed low pay for the situation. Texas prison officers start at a salary[9] of about $ 36,000; the maximum is less than $ 45,000.

A perennial problem

From shanks to phones to drugs, contraband of all types has been a perennial source of consternation for Texas prison officials. Gov. Rick Perry[10] put 112 prisons on lockdown in 2008[11] after a man on death row called a state senator from a cellphone he said was smuggled in by a guard. Afterward, the agency bought call jammers[12] and eventually started drug-testing the staff[13] in the hope of cutting down on smuggling.

Shortly before the pandemic halted all prison visitation last March, the prison system rolled out its latest anti-contraband program[14]. Inspect 2 Protect meant more drug-sniffing dogs on visiting days and stricter rules that banned mail except for plain white paper and a few photographs[15]. So no more store-bought greeting cards, no kids’ artwork, no glitter and no glue.

Officials said these rules would make it harder for outsiders to mail in drug-laced paper disguised by thick greeting card stock or elaborate paint. While even a cursory check can block bricks of cocaine from coming in through the mail, detecting paper soaked in liquid K2 or meth could be much harder, they said. In promoting the program, the prison agency said that it flagged roughly 3,500 letters each month in 2019 — about 0.5% of prisoner mail — as having an “uninspectable or suspicious substance.” Since stickers and perfume count as suspicious, too, it’s unclear how much of the mail actually contained drugs.

Though there is little evidence showing[16] whether policies cracking down on mail are effective, prisons in Indiana[17], Michigan[18], Nebraska[19] and Utah[20] have all tried some variation of them. In Colorado, prison officials tried banning greeting cards in early 2018, but walked back the policy after[21] a prisoner threatened to sue.

In the year since Texas initiated its anti-contraband program, and without any visits from family or friends, the number of reported drug incidents in prisons stayed steady, and prisoners were disciplined for drugs more often.

Two years ago, officers found drugs in common areas 2,301 times, according to agency data. Last year, that happened 2,297 times even though the number of people incarcerated decreased by about 16%[22]. Prisoners disciplined for drugs increased by 18%, from 1,666 in 2019 to 1,960 in 2020. Over the same period, prison prosecutors said the number of people charged criminally for contraband substances in prison increased by 10%.

For many people living and working behind bars, the numbers confirm what they’ve suspected all along — the persistent contraband problem is driven mostly by staff.

“When visitation stopped and Inspect 2 Protect was in place, why was there still a large number of drugs coming in?” said one man who was released from prison in December. “The majority of stuff comes in through the officers, that’s just the bottom line.”

Half a dozen current and former prisoners cited in this story spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from agency officials.

Earlier this year, when asked whether the new mail policy had been effective, one prisoner responded by sending photos of small bags of meth ready for sale. Each one, he said, held a “penitentiary gram” — a ChapStick cap full of drugs, worth $ 75 to $ 100 in prison.

Another prisoner at a maximum-security unit said the drugs are now so plentiful and the meals so meager[23] that some men have begun trading contraband drugs for extra food.

“I just heard somebody say I’ve got a peanut butter sandwich for half a stick, which means half a joint,” he wrote, texting earlier this year on a smuggled-in cellphone he said he got from the staff.

Officer shortages and money for smuggling

Even before the pandemic, guards were regularly able to smuggle in phones — which sell for $ 800 to $ 1,500 — and drugs, sometimes hiding them in food, drinks or behind keys to fool metal detectors.

Fears of coronavirus and staff shortages have made smuggling even easier. In the past, “We would go through the metal detectors and we would do a shakedown thing kind of like the airport: You take your shoes off and you’re kind of pat-searched,” said an officer who worked at a prison on the Gulf Coast. But last year, she said, they stopped doing searches and the contraband problem grew worse, as prisoners openly smoked drugs.

“You would walk in and you could smell it in the air,” she said.

Sometimes officers didn’t need to hide the contraband at all because the prisons were so hard up for workers[24] that they said they couldn’t spare any staff to do the pat-downs.

For much of the past year, the agency has been more than 5,000 officers short,[25] and vacancy levels at several prisons hovered around 50%. The pandemic only worsened matters, sickening more than 45,000 staff members and prisoners and killing an estimated 310[26]. At times, several hundred workers were calling out sick, and those who remained didn’t want to get close to each other.

Sometimes, staff can make a few thousand extra dollars a month smuggling in contraband, according to prisoners who’ve paid them. At one unit, one man said guards usually make $ 1,000 each time they smuggle in a package of contraband — whether it’s cellphones, SIM cards or drugs.

“They become very comfortable with the idea of making an extra $ 3,000 a month,” he said. “Here’s a phrase we use right here: ‘Hey, are you interested in making a little extra money?’”

Two years ago, TDCJ officials asked the Texas Legislature for $ 168 million for pay raises to correctional officers and other prison staff to stem the flow of guards leaving and to attract more recruits. Lawmakers gave them half of what they requested[27]. This session, the agency is asking for an extra $ 114 million[28] to offer higher pay at the chronically understaffed maximum-security units.

The agency is also trying to get money to buy more surveillance cameras, which could help combat what the agency spokesperson said were significant drone drop-offs near prison fences. At one unit, he said, officials intercepted a drone-delivered package that included tobacco, K2, pills, 10 cellphones, charging cords, a folding knife and 46 grams of meth.“The introduction of contraband,” Desel wrote, “is a sophisticated criminal enterprise that in many cases is coordinated by known prison gangs operating both inside and outside” of Texas prisons.

The accidental experiment

State Sen. John Whitmire[29], a Houston Democrat who leads the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee, said the continued prevalence of drugs during a yearlong suspension of visitation shows “once and for all it’s not families that are bringing in drugs.”

He blamed prison officials for the persistent drug problems.

“There’s some complacency among most of the stakeholders and it’s just a bad situation,” he said. “I think it’s because they don’t try hard enough.”

This month, after Gov. Greg Abbott[30] eased statewide pandemic restrictions, the prison system opened up visitation again[31]. Officials also announced a slight rollback in the restrictive mail policy. Now, three times a year — around Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Christmas — prisoners will be able to get cards from their friends and families.

For advocates who have long fought against the argument that families are a large source of the prison drug supply, Texas’ accidental experiment was a success.

“It’s not coming in through visitation, it’s not coming in through the mail,” said Maggie Luna, a former prisoner who is now a fellow at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. “Now we know.”

References

  1. ^ The Marshall Project (www.themarshallproject.org)
  2. ^ newsletter (www.themarshallproject.org)
  3. ^ Facebook (www.facebook.com)
  4. ^ Twitter (twitter.com)
  5. ^ Sign up here. (www.texastribune.org)
  6. ^ have long blamed (www.texasobserver.org)
  7. ^ set up new rules curtailing prisoner mail (www.themarshallproject.org)
  8. ^ said Jeremy Desel (www.documentcloud.org)
  9. ^ start at a salary (www.texastribune.org)
  10. ^ Rick Perry (www.texastribune.org)
  11. ^ put 112 prisons on lockdown in 2008 (www.prisonlegalnews.org)
  12. ^ bought call jammers (www.houstonchronicle.com)
  13. ^ started drug-testing the staff (www.statesman.com)
  14. ^ anti-contraband program (tdcj.texas.gov)
  15. ^ banned mail except for plain white paper and a few photographs (www.texasmonthly.com)
  16. ^ little evidence showing (www.texasmonthly.com)
  17. ^ Indiana (apnews.com)
  18. ^ Michigan (apnews.com)
  19. ^ Nebraska (www.corrections.nebraska.gov)
  20. ^ Utah (corrections.utah.gov)
  21. ^ walked back the policy after (www.coloradoindependent.com)
  22. ^ by about 16% (www.lbb.state.tx.us)
  23. ^ the meals so meager (www.themarshallproject.org)
  24. ^ so hard up for workers (www.documentcloud.org)
  25. ^ more than 5,000 officers short, (www.texastribune.org)
  26. ^ an estimated 310 (texasjusticeinitiative.org)
  27. ^ half of what they requested (www.texastribune.org)
  28. ^ asking for an extra $ 114 million (www.tdcj.texas.gov)
  29. ^ John Whitmire (www.texastribune.org)
  30. ^ Greg Abbott (www.texastribune.org)
  31. ^ prison system opened up visitation again (www.texastribune.org)

Jolie McCullough, The Texas Tribune, and Keri Blakinger, The Marshall Project