DOC Commissioner Angel Quiros. Credit: Courtesy of CT-N

The Appropriations Committee asked Department of Correction Commissioner Angel Quiros Friday about a growing problem behind bars – a shortage of medical staff. 

“In the last five years we lost 438 employees, but we hired 484, that’s a net gain of only 46,” Quiros told the committee. He said that’s compounded with retirements and an inability to compete with the private sector over pay. 

Quiros said he has the ability to increase the pay of starting nurses up to five steps, but it’s still not enough to recruit. 

“The starting salary is not competitive with the private sector,” Quiros said. 

Rep. Toni Walker, co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, said she doesn’t understand why the Lamont administration would not dedicate more funds for this because the end result is that the state ends up paying more. 

“We’ve had an uptick in lawsuits because of health care,” Walker said. “If we continue having lawsuits like this, sooner or later we’re going to be taken over by the feds, and sooner or later the dollars are going to continually mount up.”

Walker and other lawmakers on the committee were annoyed with the lack of attention the matter seemed to be given. 

“It’s frustrating for me to see what little regard we apply to those who are in our custody with health care needs,” Walker added. 

She pointed to the millions of dollars Connecticut has had to pay in medical malpractice lawsuits over the past few years. 

Kara Philips, a registered nurse at Corrigan and delegate of SEIU 1199, said when you put money up front you pay less in the long run. 

Philips, who spoke at a press conference Friday, said since July 1, the DOC has hired 83 health care staff while 35 have left. She said that doesn’t come close to the 342 health care staff needed to provide a community level of care. 

Dr. Leslie Bumpus, a dentist and delegate of SEIU 1199, said all of their dental staff is dramatically underpaid. 

“Our patients are entitled to timely, adequate and equitable health care,” Bumpis said. However, there’s only 10 dentists serving 10,000 inmates. 

She said they can’t do preventative treatment because of inadequate staff to inmate ratios. 

According to Bumpus, 34 dentists would be necessary to do preventative treatment rotations.

She said they have applicants, but everyone has turned down the position due to the pay. 

Quiros said improving inmate medical is his main focus, but there are challenges in hiring and retention. 

“I need bodies in those positions so we can improve overall services,” Quiros said. 

SEIU 1199, which represents some of the medical staff, said the state needs to spend about $20 million to increase the budget inmate medical services and $30 million for retention and recruitment. 

The Appropriations Committee is expected to come out with their budget in April.