State might increase medical personnel at booking center Care for prisoners has been described as costly, inadequate

July 26, 1996|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

The director of health services for state prisoners said yesterday that he was considering adding medical personnel at the Central Booking and Intake Center after complaints that the system for taking care of sick prisoners is costly and insufficient.

Dr. Anthony Swetz, director of inmate health services for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the department might take steps to provide medical care for booking center prisoners before they have had bail reviews.

The state's contract with private provider PHP Healthcare Corp. of Reston, Va., makes the contractor responsible only for emergency care for those prisoners, a situation some medical workers call hazardous.

Yesterday, union officials representing correctional officers met with jail and booking center officials and criticized the medical system.

"It's a mess. It really is. Everybody is sitting on pins and needles hoping nothing will happen," said Archer Blackwell, correctional representative for Council 67 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

PHP is being paid about $16 million a year to provide health services covering 7,266 inmate beds at eight Baltimore jails and prisons, including more than 300 inmates in home detention. A PHP representative said Wednesday that the company is providing "constitutionally adequate" care and is constantly assessing its system for improvements.

Medical workers and an attorney for prisoners at the Baltimore City Detention Center have complained that the procedures for seeing patients under the PHP contract, which started July 1, cause delays in emergency responses and result in increased, costly calls to 911. The complaints about the booking center, where a maximum of two nurses are on duty at any given time for a population of 811, have been loudest.

A licensed practical nurse who recently quit her job at the book- ing center told The Sun this week that the contract's staffing procedures made it impossible for her to respond to both emergencies and pass out medicine to inmates at the proper time.

"We're reviewing the whole issue of central booking," Swetz said yesterday. "We're taking a look at the contract. I think there is some discussion ongoing about how to manage the overwhelming number of folks being swept off the street."

City fire officials, concerned about the increase in calls for paramedics, have called a meeting with correctional managers.

Swetz said correctional officers also might need to undergo more training about how to refer prisoners to the medical staff to keep so many from having to go to hospital emergency rooms.

Pub Date: 7/26/96

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