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TDCJ honor guard members flank a wreath at the 11th Annual Fallen Officers Memorial Service in Huntsville on May 3. The memorial wreath was presented to honor criminal justice professionals lost in the line of duty during 2009. At right, Parole Division Director Stuart Jenkins tolls a bell in remembrance of District Parole Officer Rueben Hejl of Huntsville, who was killed in a car accident while on a home visit.
Photos by David Nunnelee
Family, friends and co-workers of fallen TDCJ District Parole Officer Reuben Hejl of Huntsville applauded his service to his state and agency during the 11th Annual Fallen Officers Memorial Service on May 3.
The TDCJ memorial service is held in Huntsville each year to coincide with National Correctional Officers Week. Hejl was one of a dozen criminal justice professionals lost in the line of duty across the country in 2009. He died on May 19 from injuries suffered in a one-vehicle accident while on a home visit. The 11-year TDCJ veteran, who started his career as a correctional officer, was 35.
To his last moment of life, he was the epitome of devotion and service to this agency, said Texas Board of Criminal Justice Vice-Chairman Tom Mechler of Amarillo while two of Hejls fellow parole officers planted a live oak sapling in his memory on the grounds of the Sesquicentennial Memorial Plaza. Sixty-two trees planted in tribute to TDCJ employees lost in the line of duty over the years now ring the plaza.
TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston welcomed a large crowd to the ceremony that also noted the service of officers lost during the past year in five other states. All were honored with a 21-gun salute followed by the playing of Taps.
Today helps us ensure that their sacrifice does not go unnoticed, Livingston said. We owe so much to these public servants who day in and day out protect the public. We should all be proud to have served with those who devoted their lives, and ultimately lost their lives, while providing public safety. We should be equally proud to recognize their sacrifice, honor their memories, and to be able to say that they are not now nor will they ever be forgotten.
Mechler praised the work performed by all TDCJ professionals.
Since joining the Texas Board of Criminal Justice in 2005 and working with and meeting TDCJ employees, I must tell you that they are an impressive group, he told the audience. As a whole, your dedication to service is exceptional, and I want to personally thank you for your efforts.
At the close of the ceremony, TDCJ honor guard members presented Hejls loved ones with a special plaque commemorating his service, then stepped back to salute the family.
Livingston also offered his condolences to Hejls family, friends and colleagues.
I sincerely hope that time will ease the pain of this loss and that it is mitigated by the pride that comes with having worked with them in this difficult and demanding arena while developing a bond that wont break, he said.
Out-of-pocket expenses for seeing a doctor and filling a drug prescription are going up for TDCJ employees and retirees beginning September 1 and may increase again next year.
In May, the Board of Trustees for the Employees Retirement System of Texas approved modest health care cost increases for approximately 500,000 employees and retirees to offset a projected $140 million shortfall in funding. The increases followed input from 45,000 ERS members who responded to a survey earlier this year and a number of public feedback sessions held across the state.
Increases include a $5 hike for HealthSelect members for an office visit with their primary care physicians and $10 more to see a specialist. Inpatient hospital care will go from $100 a day, with a $500 maximum per stay, to $150 a day, up to a maximum of $750. Outpatient services remain at $100 a day, but emergency room care increases from $100 to $150. Prescription drug costs increase by $5 for generics, $10 for name brand, and $20 for non-preferred medicines. For HMO patients, office visits to a primary physician drop from $30 to $25 and seeing a specialist remains at $40 per visit.
At the same time, the annual maximum amount paid by an employee for in-network coinsurance under HealthSelect increases from $1,000 to $2,000, while out-of-network amounts rise from a $3,000 annual maximum to $7,000. Out-of-area annual maximum amounts increase from $1,000 to $3,000. The HMO out-of-area annual maximum amount changes from zero to $2,000.
TDCJ Human Resources Division Director Jan Thornton said the increases announced in May will likely be followed by further increases sometime after next years legislative session. ERS has indicated that the states health care plan faces an $880 million shortfall over the next two years even with the most recent changes.
According to ERS, theyve made the minimum changes necessary to get us through the next fiscal year, Thornton said. There will be further changes that will have to be looked at during the legislative session.
While acknowledging that no one wants to pay higher costs, Thornton said state employees still enjoy one of the best health care plans in the country, noting that no changes were made to dental insurance premiums and that disability rates are actually going down. She said the plan continues to pay 100 percent of employee and retiree premiums and 50 percent for dependents, and that employees can save money by using a TexFlex flexible spending account. Currently, only 17 percent of the TDCJ workforce participates in TexFlex, a benefit that allows employees to pay for planned out-of-pocket health and day care expenses with pretax dollars.
We really encourage people to participate in TexFlex, Thornton said. Its a way to help you budget for your projected expenses.
Other favorable changes approved in May by ERS trustees allow employees to buy more than a 30-day supply of drugs at select retail pharmacies without a maintenance fee charge and the ability to use lower-cost urgent care centers instead of hospital emergency rooms.
People are concerned, obviously, by the increases, but I hope that they see that ERS is trying to look at the whole picture and consider the customers needs as well as being realistic about the fact that weve got to make some changes to remain solvent, Thornton said. What I would like to see our employees do is react with a comprehensive view of whats going on, realizing that in the current economy and fiscal climate, we cant expect to see absolutely no effect. I still think the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, and I strongly believe that ERS has done everything they could do to minimize the impact that we will see for the upcoming plan year.