Prisoners getting best treatment available, but no extras

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 22, 2011

By Shavonne Potts
SALISBURY — Sixteen years ago, Nathan Jeter was paralyzed after being shot. Now, he takes pretty good care of himself, but sometimes he has visits with a nurse to care for bed sores.
Jeter has, for the last five years, been a prisoner at Piedmont Correctional Institute. His care is similar to what he received before entering the prison in 2007 for drug possession and habitual felon conviction.
The staff makes certain he has the right medications, Jeter said.
Though he’d rather be free and receiving medical care outside the prison, he said, staff members there “do the best of their ability.”
Jeter, like other inmates, also has doctor visits outside the prison.
“If I get sick and need to go to a doctor outside, I go to Baptist,” Jeter said.
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is not the only facility that accepts inmates. In this area, inmates also receive outpatient care at Rowan Regional Medical Center and other nearby facilities. (See details in other story below).
“They will get medical care consistent with medical standards,” said Todd Pinion, correctional administrator.
States are required to provide medical care to prisoners under the cruel and unusual punishment clause in the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Department of Correction is obligated to provide “a community standard of care” to inmates.
The prison, often referred to as the “high rise,” is located on Camp Road in Salisbury, and is a medium custody facility. The prison provides medical care, mental health services and dental care to prisoners.
Piedmont Correctional has a medical staff of 46 who care each day for more than 1,000 inmates. The medical staff includes psychologists, dentists, nurses, a medical records clerk and other medical technicians.
“The general prison population is not healthy. When they arrive, they are sicker than the average person. But with care they may improve,” said Nurse Manager Linda Lott.
Typically, most inmates don’t take care of themselves, Lott said.
Poor health could be attributed to lack of money, while some are substance abusers whose addictions may have led to inadequate care.
Piedmont Correctional processes about 500 new admissions per month where prisoners are screened with a physical and dental exam.
A prisoner is seen individually with a nurse practitioner and nurse who look for abnormalities or undiagnosed health conditions.
“A lot are coming in with multiple health issues,” said Nurse Practitioner Janet Parker.
A physical is conducted within seven days of the inmate’s arrival. The staff can meet with 50 to 60 inmates on a given day.
Dentist Gary Applewhite also looks for abnormalities and sees anywhere from 50 to 67 inmates during an intake screening.
On Thursday, he and hygienist Cherie Smith saw 57 prisoners who had recently arrived to Piedmont Correctional.
It is mandatory for all inmates to have tuberculosis testing, but other tests such as HIV or those for sexually transmitted diseases, are not required, but often are administered.
“Less than 1 percent of inmates refuse,” Lott said.
When prisoners enter the facility, they are tested during the screening process.
An inmate who is younger than 50 years old has a physical every five years, while older inmates have an annual physical, Lott said.
Doctor appointments are made at the request of the prisoners, who fill out a form indicating their medical needs. The forms are placed inside locked boxes throughout the prison lobby and housing area. A medical staff member picks up the form and determines if the medical need is an emergency.
“An inmate would have to declare, verbally, an emergency,” Lott said.
If the medical request is a non-emergency, the prisoner is seen by medical staff within five days.
“If the doctor is not present they are notified by phone. If they (medical staff) feel the situation warrants it, they (inmate) can be sent to the hospital,” said John Morgan, family nurse practitioner.
Morgan is the lead provider for the western region.
All of a prisoner’s health care is paid by taxpayers.
Inmates who can afford the cost, pay a $5 co-pay for non-emergency procedures and $7 for a non-life threatening emergency.
An inmate can earn money through work release, a “prison job” or a family member can send money to inmates. Inmates receive a photo identification card that is also tied to an account where money is drafted to pay for expenses, including medical co-pays and the canteen for over-the-counter medications.
If an inmate is deemed indigent, he still receives medical care at no cost to him.
Piedmont Correctional also receives inmates from other prisons that may not be able to meet the inmates’ needs.
For instance, an inmate who is prescribed a round of antibiotics intravenously may be sent to Piedmont Correctional, Lott said.
The infirmary is a 14-bed facility that is capable of handling minor surgical operations, X-rays, lab work and dental molds for dentures.
“We try to get inmates what they need, not what they want,” Morgan said.
Some inmates arrive with drug dependencies and other addictions.
Lott said there is a misconception that prisoners can receive anything.
“We maintain their health,” she said.
In the mid-1990s, sentencing laws changed and that resulted in longer prison stays for inmates, meaning some would die while serving time.
Most deaths in a prison are anticipated, Lott said.
The prison staff members provide end of life care to inmates with a terminal illness.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.