An inmate at the Utah County Jail is racking up almost $1 million dollars in medical bills, more than half the jail’s annual medical budget. Utah County Commissioners say they have enough to cover the outstanding bills but will need a long-term solution if the county is going to continue to care for the inmate.
Emails obtained through a public records request show Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy begging county commissioners to help him pay the growing medical bills of Gerardo Romero-Valerio, an undocumented immigrant who has been held on charges of child sexual abuse since March of 2017. He’s receiving treatment for an unspecified medical condition.
In a May email, Tracy told commissioners, “If we fail to timely pay our bills and are refused treatment of inmates by the Hospitals, we incur huge liability and create violations of Federal and State civil rights.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that prisoners have a constitutional right to receive necessary medical care while in custody.
The emails did not include a response from county commissioners. Commissioner Nathan Ivie, however, said he did reach out to Tracy.
“My personal conversation with the Sheriff was 'let’s utilize what you have available currently and when you’re out of money, we’ll have to look at reopening the budget and finding you more,'” Ivy said.
Earlier this month, Sheriff Tracy announced his resignation Aug. 1 over the budget woes. He told the commission he took the lack of funding as a “vote of no confidence.” Tracy also recommended the county lay off 15 jail deputies and release more than 100 jail inmates to pay the bills. County commissioners rejected both proposals.
Ivie said the jail was able to shift money from another account to address overdue bills, and will be dipping into county reserves. But while Romero-Valerio remains in custody, his medical bills continue to grow, Ivie said, so the county will have to find more money from somewhere.
“He’s in a hospital currently,” Ivie said. “So the medical is only part of his extraordinary expense because we have to have surveillance and guards over him all the time to.”
According to an attorney for Utah County, Romero-Valerio can stand trial once his medical issues are resolved.