Fayette Prison Board to study inmate illnesses policy

| Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 6:59 a.m.

The Fayette County Prison Board will look at the prison's policy concerning inmates complaining of sickness to avoid going to jail.

During Wednesday's board meeting, Tammy Lambie, Fayette County deputy court administrator, requested the prison board's procedures concerning incoming prisoners complaining of medical issues.

Lambie related numerous accounts of prisoners being arrested, arraigned, processed through the booking center, and when they arrived at the prison, complained of medical or health issues. The prisoner is then taken to the hospital for treatment, which they refuse, and then the prison won't accept them unless they get the medical treatment.

Fayette County Prison Warden Brian Miller said they can accept those prisoners who refused medical treatment, but if something were to happen to the inmate, the county would be liable for the cost of treatment, not Prime Care Medical, the prison's medical provider.

While there are some legitimate incidents of incoming prisoners needing medical treatment, officials have found that many use the system to their advantage and are placed in the middle of the hospital and the prison, which could lead to that prisoner being incarcerated after a long span, having their bond lowered or being let free.

“We have individuals who have figured the system out,” said Uniontown police Chief Jason Cox, who himself had to spend eight hours with a prisoner because he had a small cut on his head and requested medical attention. “At that point, we're really stuck.”

The medical staff at the prison is there from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and includes a nurse and a director.

Fayette County Commissioner Vincent Zapotosky suggested a need for 24/7 medical management at the prison.

Miller said the issue with that is, a prisoner could bring up symptoms even a trained nurse and/or director would send to a hospital, which is better equipped to handle the emergency. He noted that happened once at the prison during daytime hours when the medical staff was on duty.

“I'm not going to override our medical department,” Miller said.

Another concern was for law enforcement.

Officers with some municipalities drop off a prisoner at the booking center to be processed, but if the prisoner begins complaining about a medical issue, then the officer is stuck with that prisoner and not back on the job.

“We want to keep officers on the street,” Cox said, adding that the issue is black-and-white policies without being able to lean one way or the other.

Cox suggested a chain of command in the prison system for situations outside the norm.

Fayette Commissioner Al Ambrosini suggested the prisoner sign a refusal of treatment form at the hospital and also something that could bring them back to prison. Some at the meeting thought the prisoner would refuse to sign a form like that.

Fayette Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink suggested giving the court administrator's office the policy and allow them to review it and make a decision of what can be done.

Zapotosky also suggested they look at other county prisons to see if their policies address the same issue.

In other business:

• The prison board will await word from prison chaplain Terry Sanders whether he can find a cheaper liability insurance quote. His salary was recently cut from $500 a month to $375 a month and with a $150 insurance payment per month, he is left with $225 a month salary.

• The prison currently holds 208 males and 34 females, totaling 242 inmates. Twenty-five male inmates and 10 female inmates are lodged in Greene County, and four male inmates are lodged in Cambria County.

Mark Hofmann is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or mhofmann@tribweb.com.

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