Medical care to inmates

Published 3:37 pm Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Pearl River County’s jail now has 24-hour medical care with a licensed practical nurse to serve all inmates.

The program was initiated May 1, to cater to the medical needs of the inmates held at the jail. While the inmates include mostly county residents, the jail also houses state inmates, federal inmates and Hancock county inmates. Medical care provided in the jail will enable the inmates to get immediate care for what ails them and certified the jail to house more federal inmates, Chief Deputy Julie Flowers said. Only a week into the program, about 250 inmates have already received medical care through the program, all in house.

In-house medical care will free up Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department deputies who previously had to transport inmates to the hospital, Flowers said.

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Medical care for the inmates is provided by Southern Health Partners, which provides the same service to jails in 11 states. Care is provided by a licensed nurse practitioner who is on staff 24 hours a day. Not only will the inmates have access to care at all hours of the day, seven new jobs were filled by county residents as part of the deal.

If an inmate has a complaint, the medical staff evaluate the inmate’s condition, then provide them care on a priority basis. All inmates who need care will be seen, Flowers said. Once an inmate has been evaluated, the staff will be able to determine what kind of medication, if any, is needed. The nurse practitioner stays in constant communication with a doctor and in extreme cases the inmate may see a doctor. If the care is within the scope of the nurse practitioner, the care will be performed on site. The nurse practitioner can proived care up to sutures, or minor surgeries such as toe nail removal. Major surgeries will have to be handled by a doctor, Flowers said.

When an inmate is brought to the jail, within 12 hours the inmate will be asked a battery of health-related questions. That series of questions will give the staff an idea of prior medical conditions. However not all inmates are completely honest with those questions.

“We can only work with what they provide us,” Flowers said.

If an inmate is suspected to be suffering from withdrawals due to severe substance abuse when they are brought in to the jail, they will be secluded from the rest of the population. If there is further medical attention needed beyond detoxification, then the staff could help them with whatever medical attention they need, up to medication. Inmates will not have to deal with withdrawal symptoms that may be life threatening, Flowers said.

Some inmates may have preexisting conditions and need proper medication on a regular basis.

“That’s why we had the four deaths, all of them had a history of medical problems,” Flowers said.

That same medical staff can ensure inmates get the medication they need when they need it. However, from time to time inmates refuse to take their medication. In such instances those inmates will have to sign a sheet stating they refused their medication, releasing the staff from any liability. Before the staff can let them sign the sheet, they speak strongly to the inmate about the repercussions of not taking those medications, Flowers said. Inmates most likely to refuse medication would be those accustomed to neglecting their bodies.

Most of those inmates who recently died had been to the doctor many times prior to their death for health related issues. In-house medical treatment will not guarantee there will not be future health-related problems in the jail due to preexisting health conditions. Flowers said people still die even in hospitals.

This in-house care will cost about as much as the jail was spending to use personnel to transport inmates to the hospital with gas, employee pay and not to mention hospital costs.

“So if we do preventive maintenance now, it should cut down on the trips to the hospital,” Flowers said.

This is not the only program at the jail to help inmates get back into society better off than when they came in. Inmates also have opportunities to attend GED classes, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and other programs to help them better prepare for life when they get out, Flowers said.

“This is not a job to me. I am concerned and I care about people,” Flowers said.

Flowers said she has an obligation to protect people inside the jail as well as those outside the jail. Any complaints that come to the jail are thoroughly investigated to get to the bottom of them.

“We have nothing to hide because we’re running this place professionally,” Flowers said.