An innovative new partnership between the Medical University of South Carolina and the state Department of Corrections takes a promising step toward improving health care for the state’s roughly 15,000 prisoners. As the severe impact of COVID-19 on inmate health demonstrated, the partnership is greatly needed.
This summer, the MUSC Health Chester Medical Center will begin to build a prison-standard secure hospital wing that will start admitting patients in the summer of 2022. It will have 35 beds to treat inmates of the S.C. prison system for acute conditions such as appendicitis or pneumonia, or any serious cases of COVID-19.
Emergencies will continue to be treated in hospitals around the state.
Today, when a prisoner has to go to a hospital, he or she must be accompanied by two correctional officers. The new secure hospital wing will allow the Department of Corrections to reduce the number of correctional officers needed for this task, saving as many as 200 slots that can be restored to prison duty, according to an MUSC news release. That would amount to a significant increase in prison staffing.
MUSC said the Corrections Department’s savings from the partnership would come from “a combination of security efficiencies and reduced overtime for corrections officers as well as exploration of other ways to leverage MUSC Health’s broad network of expertise, health care providers and collective buying power.”
Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said the partnership would “allow inmates to be treated in a consolidated, safe, secure environment and save taxpayer dollars.”
And MUSC Health CEO Dr. Patrick J. Cawley called the partnership “a win-win-win (that) provides community benefits in several domains.”
“SCDC patients will benefit from better continuity of care,” he said. “The community will be safer due to the decreased need for patient transport around the state, and the state is able to realize efficiencies and innovations that will lead to significant cost savings in the future.”
COVID-19 put a particularly heavy burden on the Department of Corrections in the past year, as it did for most community living arrangements, including nursing homes. Not counting infections among correctional staff, which were also high, 1 in 6 prisoners in the system had caught the virus as of April 26.
The pandemic appears to be easing in many places, but the new agreement promises to greatly improve the standard of medical care for prisoners in addition to saving money beyond the global public health crisis. It should be widely welcomed.