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FOX 13 Investigates: New prison in ‘crisis’ as software keeping medication from inmates

Posted at 5:54 PM, Aug 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-21 19:54:53-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Problems moving to a new medical records system have caused thousands of Utah State Prison inmates to go without medications, administrators told families on Sunday.

“It corrupted a bunch of data that came over,” explained Steve Turley, the director of clinical services for the Utah Department of Corrections. “Certain medications did not migrate over. Some medications were quadrupled.”

Turley and UDC director Brian Nielson spoke to families by Zoom on Sunday. In one anecdote describing the extent of the problem, Turley said the software “showed most inmates to be pregnant.”

“Obviously, that’s not the case,” he clarified.

The software migration began Aug. 1. That was about two weeks after inmates moved out of the old prison in Draper and into the new penitentiary in western Salt Lake City.

“The transition has gone not as well as we had hoped,” Nielson said.

“It did not go as planned, and we take accountability for that,” Turley said.

“We are working to fix this crisis,” he added.

The briefing came after a Thursday story from FOX 13 News. Besides medication delays, families have complained of prison staff not treating ailments, a lack of phones and outdoor time at the new prison, and even mosquitos from adjacent wetlands biting the inmates when they do go outdoors.

READ: Families raise serious concerns six weeks into new $1 billion state prison

Prison staff on Sunday only addressed the medication problems and told families that their incarcerated loved ones needed to submit written requests if they want to be seen by a physician. Families have complained their inmates have been doing so.

“So, I believe they didn't give us any answers,” said Shelly Munster, whose husband recently arrived at the new prison. “I believe they got on [Zoom] and said as little as they could.”

Munster said her husband went about two weeks without medications for high blood pressure and mental health needs, but that problems have gone beyond prescriptions.

“He came up with an infection in his leg,” Munster said. “It took them 11 days from the day it started for him to be seen.”

Wendy Parmley, the director of medical and mental health policy for Utah Prisoner Advocate Network, said the missing prescriptions can impact safety in the prison.

“An individual now hearing voices and placed in max (security) because he didn't receive and still may not have received his mental health medications, for example,” she said.

Parmley said administrators should not have tried to implement a software change while transitioning to a new prison — at least not without redundant records.

“But there really was a glitch in the leadership and the rollout,” Parmley said.

Nielson on Sunday said staff expected the records migration to work. Workers did print many documents and manually enter information, but that hasn’t been efficient, he added.

Parmley wants the department to establish a command center to coordinate the writing of new prescriptions and deliver the medications. Then she wants the department to use contracts it already has with outside physicians and other health workers to augment prison staff.

“You certainly are going to save dollars spending a little bit of money right this minute to make it right,” she said.

Turley said temporary pharmacy staff are arriving Monday. What had been 15,000 outstanding prescriptions has already been whittled to 4,000, he said.

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