Jail Medical Contract Renewed; Improvement Goals Remain

Porter County Jail Officer Adam Candiano filled little cups with water from a brown cooler and lined them up on the side of a cart.

Tricia Arzich, the assistant nurse manager at the jail, checked a computer screen before calling out the names of inmates in a minimum-security section of the jail Friday morning.

One by one, they came out and took the pills she dispensed in small opaque cups and Candiano made sure the inmates swallowed them. One inmate came up to use an inhaler.

The inmates, Arzich said, take “all kinds” of medications. The most-often dispensed drugs are for mental health issues, followed by high blood pressure. Then it’s over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen, prescriptions for diabetes, seizures, the gamut of the medical spectrum.

A bit later, Kim Hearron, a mental health professional with Correct Care Solutions, meets with an inmate in the medical center in the middle of the jail.

“I’m the one who assesses them initially for everything,” said Hearron, one of several medical staff who serves the jail, part of a list that includes nurses who are there full-time and doctors, dentists and psychiatrists who make regular visits.

The jail’s contract with Correct Care Solutions began in July 2013 and marked the first time inmates had access to health care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In recent days, the Board of Commissioners signed a new contract with Quality Correctional Care for $1,545,100 for medical care with the goal of further improving medical service to inmates.

Greater medical care at the jail also reduces the county’s legal liability. The number of lawsuits alleging the deprivation of medical care has fluctuated over the years, said Sheriff David Reynolds, adding there were three such lawsuits in 2010; none in 2011; three in 2012; and nine in 2013.

There is one pending suit against the county now, he said, adding he wasn’t at liberty to discuss the case.

The move to provide better medical care started under former Sheriff David Lain after a report from the National Institute of Corrections pointed to inefficiencies in what the jail was providing.

At the time, Lain said the jail did not have medical staff on-site overnight and while it met state standards for inmate health care, he contended it would be cheaper to have medical staff around the clock because it would reduce emergency room trips for cases that could be handled at the jail with the proper staff.

The Lake County Jail in Crown Point also was under a U.S. Department of Justice mandate because of poor conditions there.

“We didn’t want to get in that situation. We have a very efficient operation and I think it’s going to get more efficient,” Reynolds said, adding the changes instituted in 2013 included adding mental health services at the jail for the first time. “If we didn’t do this, where would we be from a liability standpoint?”

About 75 percent of the inmates at the jail suffer from some form of mental illness, Hearron said, adding the top diagnosis is anxiety and depression, followed by bipolar disorder.

The jail’s medical facilities include eight cells for medical isolation, or what Hearron called “med iso.”

“That’s like our infirmary, our mini hospital,” she said, adding inmates with a contagious illness, infected dog bites or other medical issue take up those cells.

“It’s all about quality, improving not only mental health but overall wellbeing and care of the inmates,” Hearron said.

from the Chicago Tribune