Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter confirms that inmates do commit felonies solely because they are uninsured or cannot afford medical care such as surgical procedures, including organ transplants. Once a person is booked into the Sedgwick County Detention Facility, or state and federal prisons for that matter, the taxpayers are responsible for that person’s medical expenses.
Kansas is not unique on this issue, but the problem is compounded by state politics, specifically in regards to Governor Sam Brownback’s refusal to expand Medicaid using federal funding offered through the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, a move that the Kansas Health Institute says is costing both Kansas and Missouri hospitals billions of dollars.
In Kansas, which is a red state that has taken a recent and sharp turn towards a more radical, Tea Party-based agenda, activists and Democratic legislators have fought to expand Medicaid, but those efforts have fallen on deaf ears in the Republican-controlled statehouse.
The Sedgwick County Detention Facility has a rocky past when it comes to dealing with medical emergencies. Deputies have been known to ignore an inmate’s pleas for medical attention, opting to put the issue off onto the deputy that relieves them from their shift. At a forum in 2013, shortly after he took office, Sheriff Easter, who is in charge of the jail, assured the League of Women Voters that he has zero tolerance for such behavior, and says that all inmates that request or appear to need medical attention receive it immediately.
Just this week, an inmate died in the jail, from as of yet unknown causes. The 55 year-old inmate was the third to die in the jail this year. Last year, out of over 27,000 inmates who were booked into the jail, only one died of natural causes while in custody.