NEWS: MTC fights to keep Coronavirus outside facilities
By Amber Lollar The Henderson News
April 8, 2020
As our communities, and the world at large, struggle with the ongoing pandemic and all that entails, there is another section of the population with an entirely different set of struggles.
Management and Training Corporation, a privately owned contractor charged with the management of the three Rusk County prison facilities, hopes to ensure the community and those with family members residing in their units that they are diligently working to keep COVID-19 out of their facilities.
When asked how MTC is combating the introduction of the Coronavirus to its facilities MTC Regional Vice President Michael Bell said, “We are working hand in hand with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and following the agency’s Coronavirus Protocol. That means we’re constantly disinfecting all of the living areas, dining halls, multi-use rooms and any objects that are touched frequently including doorknobs, telephones, handrails, etc. We are also constantly communicating with staff and inmates to make sure they follow CDC recommendations including washing hands frequently and participating in social distancing protocols. We’re delivering school lessons to dorms rather than conducting classes. We’re also screening all essential visitors (staff, delivery drivers, etc.) prior to allowing entry into our facilities.”
Claims from outside sources have been made stating that East Texas Treatment Facility has confirmed Coronavirus cases within its walls. This claim is false. There are no confirmed or suspected cases within ETTF.
The panic initially began with reports of Dallas County offenders testing positive for COVID-19. While Dallas County is one of MTC’s largest contractors no offenders transferred into ETTF came into contact with the patient from the Dallas County Jail and they have subsequently stopped accepting transfers from this area in an abundance of caution.
Offenders already housed with ETTF that fall under high-risk categories, such as those with chronic illnesses, have been placed at the top of their on-site medical staff’s priority list, ensuring the offenders receive the medical treatment they need and that CDC protocols are followed to minimize their risk.
Gyms at either end of the unit are being used as medical restriction areas. Offenders who are not in a medically restrictive status are not allowed into these areas for the safety of those that are utilizing this protected space.
While the regular treatment schedule is canceled, ETTF counseling staff are conducting alternative treatment, eliminating the need for group sessions. Bell said, “An enhanced delivery plan is currently being developed to ensure treatment programs can continue long term and still be effective while allowing access to counselors.”
In a furthered effort to clarify how MTC is dealing with social distancing guidelines, Bell said, “There are obvious challenges to social distancing in a prison setting. That is why the CDC has issued specific guidelines for the correctional setting that are different than its recommendations to the general public. We visualize each dorm as a household (as Governor Abbott has ordered) and minimize contact between offenders in different dorms (households). We have eliminated any grouping of more than ten offenders at a time and follow the social distancing protocols (six feet apart) within these groups.
Our staff are working hard to make sure they and those in our care are safe and healthy. We appreciate them for all they’re doing to work through this difficult and uncertain time. We also appreciate the men and women in our care who are doing all they can to follow the CDC guidelines including washing their hands frequently, avoiding touching their eyes, nose, and mouth, and sneezing into a tissue or their arm.”