Harrisburg, PA — Department of Corrections (DOC) officials are highlighting a different employee group for their work to support the department, its mission and the inmates at the state’s 24 state correctional facilities, in particular during the COVID-19 pandemic. This past week officials recognized medical and dental employees.
“When people think about the state prison system, they probably only think about the security aspect of operations. Providing inmates with medical care is one of the Constitutional rights afforded to incarcerated individuals. So, this week we are paying tribute to the work these groups of employees perform,” Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said.
Wetzel said work performed by these individuals has been brought to the forefront of corrections operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Medical staff, including those working in the DOC’s headquarters, have been working tirelessly to mitigate the virus’ impact on the state prison system.
Medical staff are included in daily meetings, held at the institution and agency levels. Their work helps guide facilities with respect to testing inmates for COVID-19, quarantining and isolating inmates and separating inmates with positive tests from those with negative tests. They also have helped several facilities set up isolation units in their gymnasiums when active cases increased. Medical staff are working 24/7 to handle COVID-19 and continue their regular medical services for inmates.
The DOC contracts with Wellpath for medical services and doctors. Nursing staff are not under contract, and the DOC employs 800 nurses, ranging from nurse’s aides to forensic registered nurse supervisors. The DOC also employs one corrections health care administrator (CHCA) at most facilities – neighboring facilities may share a CHCA.
In addition to day-to-day medical care provided to inmates, medical staff provide physical exams, preventive health evaluations and care, emergency services, in-patient and out-patient care; coordinates on-site and off-site specialty consultations and care; hold chronic illness clinics; provide long term care, skilled and personal care services, hospice care, dialysis services, pre- and post-natal services, optical care, dental services, hearing services, distribution of pharmaceuticals, and initial intake screening; evaluate inmates for suicide risk; conduct medical screenings for placement into the boot camp or youthful offender program; and more.
The DOC operates an oncology unit at SCI Fayette and a dialysis unit at SCI Laurel Highlands. Also at Laurel Highlands, nurses provide skilled care and personal care to inmates. At nearly every facility, medical departments operate infirmaries where inmates are cared for, including prior to and/or after hospitalization.
Dental services provided to inmates include: dental examination, creating an individualized dental treatment plan, oral hygiene instruction, cleanings and routine dental services. Nearly everything provided to a citizen also is provided to inmates, with specialty care being provided in the community as required. The DOC employs 36 dental assistants, 27 dental hygienists, 33 dentists and one dentist supervisor.
The DOC’s Access to Health Care policy is available on its website.
“We greatly appreciate our medical and dental staff, and especially so during this pandemic,” Wetzel said. “We will continue on with COVID-19 mitigation efforts as a cohesive team and one that appreciates each other. I hope medical and dental staff realize how important they are to the operation of our system. I congratulate them on this special week and ask citizens to join me in recognizing the important work they do.”
Next week, DOC officials will recognize security office staff, corrections officers, parole agents, CCC Monitors, transport officers/agents, mailroom staff, training staff, perimeter patrol staff and maintenance staff.
Staff are recognized in various ways depending on local, fellow employee suggestions, including recognition banners, cakes, cookies and pizza, facility newsletter articles, gift cards, handwritten thank-you notes, and specially designated parking spaces.