Learning About Health Behind Bars at Winter #MACoCon

During this year’s Winter MACo Conference, corrections and public health experts joined together to discuss health care delivery in local detention centers.

Inmate populations are especially at risk for substance use and mental health disorders in addition to all kinds of physical ailments. Panelists during “Health Behind Bars” discussed how care is provided and a host of impending issues facing our jails including nursing shortages, opioid legislation implementation, and limited funding.

Speakers: 

  • Mary Ann Thompson, Vice President, Maryland Correctional Administrators Association
  • Larry Polsky, Health Officer, Calvert County 
  • Denise Dickerson, Supervisor, Calvert Crisis Response
  • Larry Doll, Senior Vice President for Strategic Development, Wellpath
  • Marianne Gibson, Deputy Director, Maryland Opioid Operational Command Center  

Moderator: 

  • Corey W. Pack, Council Member, Talbot County   

Council Member Pack, who worked for many years under the Maryland Department of Corrections, introduced the session. Vice President Thompson began the session by providing a detailed overview of detention center operations across the state and the healthcare services they provide, which span from routine physical examinations to administration of medications. She added that detention center populations face unique challenges including chronic disease and conditions, trauma, homelessness, and overcrowding. The detention centers, themselves, have faced challenges including implementing COVID-19 protocols, expanding medication assisted treatment for substance use disorders, and certain unfunded mandates.

Dr. Polsky focused his presentation on re-entry issues faced by formerly incarcerated populations. He highlighted some of the issues unique to this population, including high rates of substance use disorders, mental health conditions, and other treatable health disorders. Dr. Polsky noted that by tending to these issues, re-arrest rates have tended to decrease. His co-presenter, Ms. Dickerson, focused on how case management and linking formerly incarcerated individuals to existing resources is an inexpensive means to prevent both recidivism and improve health outcomes.

Senior Vice President Doll’s presentation provided a more detailed view into healthcare delivery systems used by our local detention centers. His company, Wellpath, provides a broad array of health services to inmates in tandem with county operators including x-rays, dental care, infectious disease control, and management of opioid use disorder – all without access to Medicaid reimbursement. Senior Vice President Doll made special mention of how a nursing shortage could significantly impact the ability to provide healthcare in correctional facilities.

Finally, Deputy Director Gibson emphasized the state’s goal of treating substance use disorder in correctional facilities. She noted that overdoses and overdose-related deaths have spiked in recent years, and how formerly incarcerated populations are at an especially high risk of overdosing upon release. Deputy Director Gibson detailed the implementation of, and lessons learned from, HB116 from 2019, which increased medication assisted treatment options for substance use disorder in correctional facilities. The State of Maryland will be providing funds in the near future to local detention centers to further implement HB116.

More about MACo’s Winter Conference:

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