Pharmaceutical service is just one issue that the Department of Correction is dealing with as the agency takes over inmate health care from UConn Health’s Correctional Managed Health Care.
DOC Commissioner Rollin Cook announced to staff in March that Dr. Byron Kennedy has been appointed as the DOC’s Chief Medical Officer of the Health Services Unit. Kennedy was previously the Director of Public Health for the city of New Haven. He started sometime in June.
The prison health care system has been without a Chief Medical Officer since 2018 when Joseph Brenton quit after three months on the job over concerns that inmates weren’t getting proper care.
Earlier this year, DOC officials confirmed that five women have overdosed on methadone dispensed by nurses working at York Correctional Institution, the state’s only prison for females, since July 2018. Some of the women who overdosed required Narcan, a drug that stops an opioid overdose, and hospitalization.
One nurse who was involved in two overdoses was terminated, DOC Director of External Affairs Karen Martucci, said. It is unclear if any of the incidents was reported to the state Board of Examiners for Nursing which oversees problems related to patient care by licensed nurses. The three other nurses are still on the job at DOC as the investigation into the overdoses is continuing, Martucci said.
The agency recently moved to an electronic dispensing system for methadone, making it safer, Martucci said.
“It lessens the risk for human error,” Martucci said. Inmates at York who are receiving methadone as part of a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program to help them stay off illegal opioids before release into the community now are identified by fingerprint, she said. York had 300 inmates participate in 2018. In all, the DOC dispensed methadone to 845 different inmates during the 2018 calendar year.
Five other corrections facilities also participate in the MAT program but the number of inmates is far less than York, which has the largest program. In June, the legislature approved an additional $8 million over two years to expand the MAT program.
There have been no other overdoses at the other programs, Martucci said. Plans for the expansion of the MAT program were not completed as of a few weeks ago. “More than 80 percent of our population is struggling with addiction and we are committed to providing treatment,” she said.
The DOC is also embarking on a program to test every inmate for Hepatitis C which is now largely curable through medication. Cook announced his plan to test all inmates on Aug. 5 – about a week after a federal court judge approved a class action suit involving four Connecticut inmates who sued the DOC and the commissioner for not providing Hep-C treatment in the state’s prisons.
“I believe this new initiative will be an effective weapon in combating the spread of Hepatitis C, which is a byproduct of the opioid addiction crisis,” Cook said in a press release issued Aug. 15. “This is not just a Department of Correction issue, this is a public health issue, and we are more than willing and able to work toward fixing it.”
The lawsuit seeking Hep-C treatment for inmates was filed in 2018.
The agency will temporarily contract out for the testing and will not use current staff, Martucci said. Treatment will be prioritized according to the progression of the disease, she said.
The cost of the Hep-C testing and treatment plan is unknown, Martucci said.
During the last budget year, the agency ran $38 million over budget, of which $20 million was attributed to increased health care costs due to the transition from UConn Health to the DOC.
Cook told the Appropriations Committee in April that the $20 million in cost overruns for inmate health care was attributable to hiring delays, which drove up overtime, higher costs than anticipated for pharmaceuticals, laboratory services, medical supplies, and specialty services.