The headline of The Santa Barbara Independent’s August 20 article asks, “Inept Inmate Care by Corizon?” The answer is a resounding no. The story fails to paint a complete picture regarding the breadth of medical care that Corizon Health has been providing to Santa Barbara County’s inmates for 20 years. It also falls short of capturing the challenges of caring for some of the most complex patients in our society.
Our dedicated physicians and clinicians work hard day-in and day-out to offer the best possible quality of care, delivered through the most efficient practices, to one of the most vulnerable patient communities — in one of the most challenging environments imaginable. Many of our medical staff view this profession as a calling, spending much of their careers with us. Even as these circumstances make for unprecedented complexities in providing much-needed care, we view our jobs as an important component to Santa Barbara’s public health delivery system and equal in mission to that of medical professionals in the general public: We help our patients get healthy and stay that way or to heal when they are sick. As members of the Santa Barbara community, our employees understand that the health and safety of the community is dependent not only on the care they provide while our patients’ are incarcerated, but on the successful and healthy reentry of our patients into society.
Working in the corrections system presents unique obstacles. Our patients suffer from illnesses and chronic conditions, including mental illness, at a much higher rate than the general public. Oftentimes they have not had consistent — or any — access to treatment or medical care. In addition, the facilities in which we operate are structurally built for security — not the provision of care — and our nurses and doctors face many barriers to success, including unanticipated facility lockdowns and violence against healthcare workers.
Despite these challenges, Corizon Health patient outcomes are frequently better than those of the general public. In fact, compared to the CDC’s Chronic Disease Indicators, our patient outcomes in cancer mortality, cardiac-related mortality, and diabetes are often significantly better than the general public. We do everything possible so anyone who needs specialist care receives it. Additionally, Corizon Health connects patients to outside experts when needed, ensuring they receive evidence-based treatment.
We know successful care starts with a strong foundation. That’s why, at the Santa Barbara County Jail, each inmate responds to a 21-question health screening at intake and every inmate who indicates any health issues is directed immediately to an RN for a full health assessment, including obtaining a list of health conditions and medications. Our medical staff then orders prescribed medications (including psychotropic drugs). We also verify medical histories with pharmacies and doctors’ offices so that treatment may continue, uninterrupted.
Every inmate, whether he or she indicated medical issues upon intake, receives a complete physical within 14 days of incarceration. We also have 24/7 on-call physicians to facilitate triage, and patients with chronic conditions are seen every 30, 60, and 90 days to closely monitor medical issues in combination with lab tests, physical exams, and radiological tests.
While we’ve seen many successes during our time in Santa Barbara County, we are committed to continuous improvement. We work proactively to understand concerns raised and invest in solutions to improve the way we offer care. For example, we recognized a need to develop an accelerated system to ensure inmate sick call requests are seen within three days, while working within space and staffing limitations. We added 16 provider hours over the current contract requirements to help address the volume of sick call requests received on a daily basis and are regularly evaluating inmates with sick call requests, including at unscheduled times. To address the increasing numbers of those with mental illnesses in the jail, we have increased weekly psychiatry hours to 30, also exceeding the 25 hours per week required in the contract.
We know that a robust dialogue is the foundation for any evolution toward improvement. That’s why we value the discussion regarding the challenges of providing medical care to inmates. We appreciate those who, like us, want to safeguard access for every inmate to receive the medical care mandated by the Constitution.
We know healthy inmates are set up for a better shot at a productive life when they leave correctional facilities, making communities safer. We look forward to continued collaboration with Santa Barbara County and the community to ensure a shared success.
Harold W. Orr, Jr., MD, CCHP, MDIV, is Western Region chief clinical officer for Corizon Health.