State struggles to provide prison health care

Print Friendly

From The Daily Star:

ALBANY — New York’s complex of 54 state prison facilities is struggling to fill vacant jobs for nurses, doctors and other health care providers.

Filling those vacancies and dealing with an aging prison population at facilities across the state have become among the tallest challenges for the $3 billion correctional system, top administrators concede.

In an exclusive interview with CNHI, state Corrections Commissioner Anthony Annucci, who presides over the system, said he is expanding “age appropriate” programming for older inmates and working toward opening a new dorm that will house 60 senior inmates at Ulster Correctional Facility.

Annucci said he has been working to “expedite” so-called medical parole release for terminally ill inmates.

He also said the Department of Correctional Services and Community Supervision has been working with community organizations to ease the transition for older convicts when they are released from their prison stays.

“Many of these individuals will require nursing home placements,” Annucci said. “That can be difficult to find.”

According to Annucci, the number of days that inmates chalked up for inpatient hospital stays rose by 1,200 to 19,100 in 2016. He attributed that to the prison system’s rising concentration of older inmates.
Meanwhile, providing health care to inmates costs the state some $381 million annually, an increase of more than $64 million in three years, according to the state comptroller’s office.

About 20 percent of prison nursing jobs are vacant, and the department is trying to fill them by sweetening pay through regional pay differentials approved through the civil service system, Annucci and other officials said.

Annucci was among several state officials, county leaders, inmate advocates, union representatives and local jail administrators who appeared before lawmakers this week at a hearing dealing with the quality of health care in local and state correctional settings.

While state prisons are part of a centralized system, the county jails are administered separately and funded by the individual counties.

One influential lawmaker, Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, D-Manhattan, chairman of the Health Committee, said he would like to see the health care programs at state prisons get expanded oversight from the state Department of Health.

Another, Assemblyman David Weprin, D-Queens, chairman of the Correction Committee, is sponsoring bills that would expand eligibility for medical parole and create a new program for “geriatric parole.”
“We have some prisoners in their 70s and 80s who are not a danger to society, and they’re costing the state a lot of money,” Weprin said in an interview. “They would be better off somewhere outside the correctional institutions.”

He noted that Annucci’s agency is committed to “doing what they can to release as many older prisoners who are not a danger” but is limited by current law. His legislation would allow older inmates convicted of some violent offenses — though not for first-degree murder — to be considered eligible for parole if they have been incarcerated for at least 10 years.

“They are not the same individuals they were when they were young men,” Weprin said. “I think they should be considered for parole regardless of the crime.”

Read the full article here.