Let Them Suffer: Health Care Reform And The Prison Industry
By Stephanie Jones
Healthcare reform cost, coverage and who “deserves” healthcare has been a heated debate in our country for the past several months. Some groups are thrilled by the progress made through the recently signed bill, others devastated that we’re moving a little too close to “socialism” for their comfort. The real question is “who pays” – that’s really what the debate is all about. Many don’t want to carry the burden for those deemed “undeserving” of medical care.
Who gets left out in this debate? Those incarcerated individuals who are lost, forgotten and left out of ALL political debates and movements.
This past Sunday my husband, Derrick, went to the “hospital” where he is incarcerated at Clallam Bay Corrections Center. The nurse was examining him and he started asking questions. Questions such as, could he possibly finally have surgery for those bullets that have been left in him for years and are now starting to shift. She immediately shunned him – until he told her that it was possible to add him to my insurance policy “on the streets”. She quickly responded “Well in that case, I can look for and do more.” He experienced first hand how the level of insurance influenced the level of care received. The level of care he – and others who are incarcerated – have experienced has been life threatening at worst and mediocre at best.
Below is special report done by the Seattle Post Intelligencer documenting problems at McNeil Island Corrections Center from 1997 – 2001. These are just a small example from one institution and only for a few years.
|Reports and investigations indicating problems at McNeil Island Correctional Center:|
In the five years prior to 2002, the State paid over $1.2 million in settlements and judgments to families and victims of negligent healthcare that lead to death and other disabilities – all caused by lack of adequate staffing, equipment and training in our prison system. Who do you think pays for that? Taxpayers.
The average income from a prison job is right around $55 per month. Out of that, the prison automatically takes 20% for different “taxes” and fees. That’s $11 leaving a balance of $44. If the individual owes child support, it’s taken from that. The average person pays about $25 per month in support. That leaves $19. The “co-pay” to see the nurse at sick call is $2. Seems cheap doesn’t it? But, take into consideration the percentage of one’s income. It’s about 11% of the individuals “take home” pay. Imagine if you had to pay about 11% of your take home pay EVERY time you got to see a nurse who was overworked, undertrained, lacked the proper equipment, or had the capacity to make a decision about your care. And according to EVERY investigation done by the state Department of Health Services, lacks the verified licensure to even be doing the job!!! That’s right. Every prison has more than once been found to not have even verified the licensure status of their medical staff.
Let’s examine that. The nurse that the incarcerated individual sees doesn’t have the capacity to make the decisions regarding care beyond the basics. If the person needs more than an aspirin, that care has to go through a chain of command to get approved – which may take weeks or days. And will most likely end in denial which then has to be appealed, leading to more weeks of waiting to get care.
The absolute outrageous nature of medical neglect and the failures to put adequate, reasonable, preventative measures in place hasn’t gone undocumented. In a 2002 report to evaluate Washington prisons, the findings (which excluded Stafford Creek and Clallam Bay) outlined it in black and white:
EVERY single prison surveyed failed to meet infection control.
EVERY single prison failed to prepare care policies.
There are no policies and there are controls for infection – – and we think they’re getting care?
My colleague pointed out earlier today that in the documentary Sicko Michael Moore made the statement that the incarcerated are getting better care than “9/11 heroes.” (Insert swear word here.) That’s media hype to perpetuate the myth that men and women are enjoying a holiday in prison. Three meals a day and all the healthcare one could imagine. (The meals will be addressed at a later time – that’s a whole other story.)
What does all this mean for you?
Why should you care?
As a taxpayer, you’re paying.
As the wife of an incarcerated person, it costs me plenty. The prison keeps half of every dollar I send in.
So that Tylenol that costs him $4 to get ($2 for 2 pills plus a $2 co pay – you have to see a nurse to get it. There’ no “over the counter” medicine available) costs me $8. For $8 you and I could drive to the local Costco and get a bottle of 500 that would last us for several months. My husband gets two pills which at 6’2” and over 200 pounds doesn’t do a damn thing for his headache. I know, I know, I hear you saying what everyone says “You chose to get involved with a guy who’s locked up.” Yep, I did and that’s why you will never once hear me complain – I knew what I was doing. And I know what I’m advocating for, not just for my husband, but for all incarcerated peoples, is a human right.
But you should complain. And loudly.
Do you want to keep paying millions in tax dollars in restitution for those people who die, or are gravely harmed, by the lack of care in prisons? You should insist that the care be equal to that available on the streets. You should insist that qualified and license medical staff have policies in place and procedures that lead to healing rather than harming. It’ll save you thousands in the long run.
You should also be asking why there aren’t reports after 2002 readily available via public access.
Could it possibly be because no improvements have been made?