Health Care in Correctional Facilities

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on this old site of mine, but I figured that I should start writing about my experiences in medical school.

Yesterday, I visited the health clinic within Cooper Street Correctional Facility, which is part of the Michigan Department of Corrections. The drive from East Lansing was fairly uneventful, but allowed me to take in quite a bit of sun. Cooper Street was the first facility on the long stretch of road, and so I left my car in the parking lot reserved for visitors.

This wasn’t my first time entering a correctional facility. When I was a junior/senior at Princeton, I tutored incarcerated individuals at Garden State Youth Correctional Facility and Albert C. Wagner Youth Correctional Facility through the Petey Greene Program. The program had successfully helped a number of students obtain a GED, which translates into better job prospects and lower chance of recidivism. The experience was particularly eye-opening, which was why I opted to shadow at Cooper Street for my class. I hadn’t seen the medical side of it all, either.

In any case, another student from my class and I waited a few moments before we had our IDs checked and the contents of our pockets sifted through. After walking through the metal detector and trading our car keys for emergency buttons in leather holsters, we were ushered down the short stretch of hallway that led to the health clinic. We met Tammy, Sheryl, and the other medical staff, all of whom were incredibly welcoming.

I shadowed Tammy and had the opportunity to meet four patients. They had come into the clinic for various chief complaints, from GERD to medication reconciliations. The poor state of standard-issue shoes were a common grievance for most, and I could tell that Tammy sympathized. Since insoles were not allowed, Tammy explained how they might take paper towels and fashion their own. I also learned that approvals for orders, or 407s, were hard to come by. Many tests or procedures were often denied by insurance, which I believe was Corizon Correctional Healthcare. Patient referrals to hospitals or specialists were also rare, so providers often had to make do within the clinic, treating patients as best they could.

As a whole, the patients were good-natured and encouraged me to continue on with my studies. Several of the patients had grandchildren who were also in college. Most were looking forward to returning home again in a few months. From Sheryl, I learned that Cooper Street is a minimum security facility, which focused on transitioning individuals from facility life to society life.

After an afternoon shadowing Tammy, I had the opportunity to watch the daily insulin dosing. Everyone lined up in front of a nurse while she flipped through a binder and noted the precise amounts administered. They seemed to know the routine, preparing their blood glucose monitors and popping out the little “pinpricker” to exchange for a new one. One of the nurses explained that patients came through the clinic several times a day based on need, and some patients were concurrently treated with Metformin.

At the end of the day, my classmate and I were escorted out to the lobby, where we exchanged our emergency buttons for our car keys. And freedom. Although this experience wasn’t shocking, as I had worked with incarcerated individuals before, it certainly gave me greater insight into health care systems within correctional facilities. Incarcerated individuals, after all, are still patients. As a future physician, I would certainly treat all of my patients with the same patience and care.

That’s all for now. Until next time!