Prison nurses in California deal with bars of their own
Nurses who care for prison inmates may represent a niche group of healthcare workers, but hundreds of nurses employed by the prison healthcare company Corizon are banding together to cause quite a stir. The reason? A long-standing shortage of the resources and staffing needed to provide adequate care.
Now, after several inmate deaths and a handful of lawsuits, Corizon’s nurses are preparing to strike. ThinkProgress reports on the standoff underway in Alameda County, California:
ThinkProgress spoke this week to one of the jail nurses, who we will identify by the pseudonym Clara because she fears losing her job. Clara, who works as a registered nurse at the jail, described abysmal conditions including broken or dirty equipment, rushed procedures and severe understaffing.
And the procedures now in place, procedures heavily influenced by time and cost, are not helping to reduce risks.
“The patients come in right off the street. They’re often under the influence of drugs. You don’t know what their mental state is,” she said. “They’ve got three nurses seeing three inmates at once in one little cramped room, maybe 15 by 15 feet. So there’s no confidentiality. One inmate is sitting so close he could touch the next one, and we’re asking them very personal questions, like if they’re HIV positive. HIPAA [privacy] laws are totally violated there.”
While Corizon did not provide an official statement in response to the accusations, the company did reaffirm its commitment to quality healthcare. They also said this:
In a statement to ThinkProgress, Corizon asserted they “meet [their] staffing obligations” in Alameda and are “very proud of the skilled and compassionate staff” who work in these facilities.
So, just how severe is the alleged understaffing? According to Clara:
“At any other hospital, we’d be caring for five at the most, but here it’s sometimes 23 patients and one nurse. It’s unsafe,” she said. “When someone calls off sick, we have no pool to call from.”
And not surprisingly, the strain is taking a toll across the board.
Clearly, there are issues. But why haven’t the demands of the employees been met?
The negotiation between Corizon and the National Union of Healthcare Workers has dragged on for nearly a year, stuck in disagreements over the high cost of health insurance for nurses, and low staffing levels leading to unsafe conditions for medical staff and jail inmates alike.
But the pressure is on:
“Nurses never want to strike, but this is such an extreme situation that they’re willing to [in order to] draw attention to [a] bad provider,” union president Sal Rosselli told ThinkProgress.
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