adidas safety shoes Jail policy on prescription meds can leave care gaps
Spokane County spent about $60,000 a month last year doling out prescription medicine to inmates at Geiger Corrections Center and the Spokane County Jail.
Ninety percent of the prescriptions were ones the inmates were given before they even reported to jail, so it might sound easy to cut that cost by allowing inmates to bring their medications with them. Think of it: Costs to buy new meds would plummet, inmates who need medications immediately would always get them and complaints about poor medical care would drop.
Once someone is in custody, the county assumes liability for the safety of the inmate who’s taking the prescription as well as fellow inmates who might look to buy drugs off that person.
If the medicine is tainted in any way, it could be dangerous for whoever ingests it and the liability risk for the jail soars.
That’s why Spokane County’s practice, in alliance with corrections facility norms, is to not allow outside drugs inside the jail.
Cheryl Slagle, the jail’s nurse manager, said family members still show up to the jail daily with medications for inmates. They’re turned away every time, although the nurses will copy information off the medicine containers to help them replace the prescriptions.
“We can’t dispense it,” Slagle said of the medicines. “We can’t identify what’s in there, and we can’t be certain that what’s in there hasn’t been tampered with in any way.”
The official policy, written in 1995, allowed drugs to be brought into the jail and dispensed if the jail physician reviewed them.
About five years ago, however, the nurses union objected to having nurses comb through pills, said jail Cmdr. John McGrath; the formal policy was not revised, but practices changed.
Now, some inmates and their families question whether these costly security precautions end up preventing those who need medications right away from getting them.
Complaints, mostly in the form of jail grievances but a few that have amounted to lawsuits that were later dismissed, have come from inmates who say they have gone days,
sometimes even weeks, at the beginning of their jail stays deprived of their medication.
One AIDS patient who spent weeks in the jail last year was eventually released while he awaited trial because the jail couldn’t meet his medical needs, according to court records. His attorney argued in court several times that his client wasn’t getting proper medications or nutrition.
Another complaint, from a father on behalf of his son, is currently under investigation. The father accused the jail of waiting weeks to give his son the proper psychiatric drugs, resulting in manic depressive behavior and his son being put on suicide watch.
Some of the complaints, Slagle said, involve inmates who believe they should be on narcotics, or who have other disagreements with the jail’s staff doctor about what drugs are necessary. Others are a matter of not being able to quickly get medical records, leaving patients without their prescriptions in the meantime.
The jail stocks some drugs, such as blood thinners and insulin. But more often than not there’s a delay providing inmates with medications to treat mental illness the drugs that could prevent inmates from becoming violent toward themselves or others.
Both public defenders and jail administrators acknowledge that the system fails some inmates. The question is who, if anyone, is to blame.
John Rodgers, director of the Spokane County Public Defender office, said he gets complaints regularly from inmates who do not think their care is adequate. It can be hard to identify those who are really in need of more care versus those who have unrealistic expectations or are drug seeking, he said. But it’s “heart wrenching” when a diabetic doesn’t get his or her insulin or those with a disease like schizophrenia can’t take the medications that keep themselves and everyone around them safe, he said.
“I really think the jail does give a damn about that,” Rodgers said. “I really think they do. But they’re up against inmates that might hoard or abuse or trade or whatever.”
Spokane civil rights attorney Jeffry Finer called the delays “a very large problem.”
“When you show up (to jail), your medical history’s not coming with you,” Finer said.
It’s not a new problem. But with the county commissioners taking over control of the jail starting last month, it’s one that’s likely to be revisited in the near future.
Meds ordered from Pennsylvania
Every inmate brought to the jail is interviewed about medical care on arrival.
Slagle, the nurse manager, said the questions asked include whether they are on medications,
if they have pre existing conditions and whether they need immediate treatment.
Slagle said some inmates know exactly what medications they’re taking and others just know it’s “the little yellow pill.”