Reaching safe staffing levels to provide basic inmate healthcare in Connecticut’s prisons would require hiring 253 additional caregivers. That is the recommendation conveyed Thursday by a task force constituted by SEIU 1199 union members who are frontline healthcare staff at the Department of Correction.
“The commissioner tasked us with forming a staffing subcommittee to determine community standards for safe staffing ratios and what they would look like for Connecticut’s Department of Correction,” said Lisa Simo-Kinzer, a social worker at Cheshire CI. “We took on this responsibility seriously and met faithfully every week to review current staffing, number of vacancies and identified shortages for each classification. Now is our time to rectify this problem but we will be unable to do so with the proposed budget in front of us.”
The healthcare division for Connecticut’s prison system has been working short-staffed for years. Working short increases safety risks for healthcare workers and for the inmates who need their medical attention. The task force’s recommended budget for next fiscal year is $98 million, and $112 million for fiscal year 2020-21.
“I have worked at Garner, Corrigan, Radgowski and Cheshire correctional institutions and always enjoyed doing my job, up until the last three to four years,” said Bruce Lichtenstein from Cheshire CI, a dentist with over 30 years of experience who has worked in the Correction system for the past 11 years. “What used to be a pleasant work environment has turned into a nightmare due to budgetary cuts. We are operating with very low staff levels and work hours, with inferior dental products that lead to poor results, and we can’t even order the tools needed to satisfy health agency mandates. The community level standards of dental care are not being met at any of the DOC facilities.”
The 253 additional staff required to reach safe staffing means hiring 9 physicians, 10 dentists, 209 nurses, 11 mental health staff, 8 PAs & APRNs, and 5 more ancillary healthcare positions. Ensuring safe healthcare staffing levels in Connecticut’s prisons will improve outcomes and save state taxpayer money in the long run.
“The Department of Correction medical services provides global medical, mental health, pharmacy, and dental care to more than 13,000 inmates at DOC facilities, DOC-contracted halfway houses and at UConn John Dempsey Hospital. Minor issues that fail to be treated within an adequate timeframe due to staff and resource shortages tend to become major issues in the future,” said Dr. Gerald Valletta from Manson Youth Institution. “Many of these inmates have prolonged or life sentences and, therefore, will require years of care. Generally, one out of five inmates requires prompt medical or mental health intervention. Too many inmates in need of medical attention are being placed on long waiting lists due to staffing shortages. As cost keeps soaring for untreated ailments that evolve into serious illnesses, the budget is negatively impacted, and human suffering keeps spiraling for both caregivers and inmates.”
“Our incarceration system is not supposed to sentence people to poor, inadequate, or nonexistent healthcare. As a state, we have a legal and moral obligation to provide quality healthcare to the people Connecticut has chosen to imprison. Mass incarceration is a public health issue, and the sooner Connecticut starts providing complete, compassionate healthcare to people inside, the sooner our communities and families outside of prison walls with thrive,” said Shelby Henderson, campaign leader of ACLU Smart Justice Connecticut.
SEIU 1199 Union members have a long history of success fighting for health care workers’ rights and quality services for people in need. We advocate for living wages for all workers -black, brown and white- and adequate resources to do our jobs well. The Union represents 26,000 health care workers in Connecticut. Over 500 Union members are DOC caregivers classified as doctors, nurses, dentists, social workers and ancillary health care staff.