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Utah prison bosses say healthcare improving, advocacy group says inmates still missing medication

Posted at 4:44 PM, Oct 19, 2022

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah legislators heard an update on Wednesday regarding efforts to improve healthcare at Utah’s two prisons and relayed a few things they’re hearing from constituents.

“I have a constituent who contacted me,” said Salt Lake City Representative Sandra Hollins, “and said her daughter was not receiving her mental health meds in the new prison and she had some concerns about it.”

“Families have contacted me before” regarding prison medical concerns, said Provo Representative Marsha Judkins.

Representatives Judkins and Hollins sit on the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee, which Wednesday heard from auditors and the Utah Department of Corrections. Auditors last year found what they called “systematic deficiencies” in how Utah’s prisons provided healthcare.

There were problems with everything from responding to inmates’ routine requests for care to diabetes treatment to unused medications. Personally-identifiable medical records were found in a prison trash bin. Since that audit, Utah closed the Draper prison and moved 3,600 inmates to the new prison in western Salt Lake City.

That didn’t solve all the medical problems. In August, after inmates were moved to the new prison, the Department of Corrections lost prescription medication records when it tried migrating to a new software system. The glitches impacted healthcare at the Salt Lake City and Gunnison prisons.

“We are working every day to get better,” said Corrections Clinical Services Directory Steve Turley. “Some things are implemented. I wouldn’t say they’re 100%.”

Turley said 14 of the auditors’ recommendations have been implemented; two other recommendations are in progress.

Department of Corrections Director Brian Nielson acknowledged widespread employee shortages, in both corrections officers and medical staff, remain an obstacle in delivering care. Yet he said progress has been made.

“We’re offering a level of care that is appropriate at this point and we’re always looking to improve that,” Nielson said.

Wendy Parmley, director of medical and mental health issues at the Utah Prisoner Advocate Network, told legislators that the organization is still fielding more health concerns from inmates and families than it was at the height of the pandemic.

“Never again,” Parmley told the committee, “do I want to see a letter that says, ‘Please treat us like human beings; not like animals. We are afraid.’”

Outside the hearing room, Parmley described the calls and emails she’s still receiving.

“One individual has been having seizures repeatedly without his seizure medication,” she said.

“Other individuals without blood pressure medication or… their blood thinners have ended up in the hospital or actually dying.”

Nielson said prison staff investigates such complaints.

“So, if we’re looking at people not receiving medications, I would look at the accuracy of that to see what the accuracy of that statement is,” Nielson said.

“I feel confident, the position we’re in now, that we are delivering medications timely.”

Near the end of her remarks in the committee room, Judkins told Nielson, “Thank you, but I think we’re still going to be watching pretty closely.”

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