Tips for Dealing with COVID-19 at a Correctional Facility

In COVID 19, Updates by Beth

As COVID-19 affects our cities, towns and medical facilities, it is also providing a unique set of challenges in correctional facilities across the country. To minimize the risk of transmission, there are things your team can do to prepare.

The following tips offer some guidelines across core areas your entire team should be aware of as COVID-19 continues to impact our country.

Communication

Communication is essential, and should be frequent and accurate. Some helpful considerations include:

  • Introducing a daily email or briefing covering who is positive, including both staff and inmates.
    Providing ongoing support for your staff so they are able to perform in their professional capacity.
  • Identifying staff who can step up as leaders in a crisis situation. Ensure they are trained on all processes and plans, and empower them to support more vulnerable colleagues.
  • Staying in touch with local health authorities. This will allow your communications to be updated with the latest, most accurate information.
  • If you have groups of correctional administrators in your area, making time to connect and support one another, including pooling resources and experience gained at each site.

Postings and Inmate Education

Remember the importance of offering information in multiple languages.

  • You should have information posted regarding COVID-19 that is available for the inmate population.
  • This information should be tailored to the population, and provide them information on what they can do to keep themselves safe.
  • Some languages to consider including are English, Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese, but your unique inmate population should help you determine which languages are necessary.
  • Communication with inmates needs to be frequent and on-going as well. Due to changes in movement or lack of visits, they will be affected by any new procedures you put in place.

Sick Slips

Timing will vary, but as you begin to see positives in your population, you will need to screen your sick slips to prioritize those that may be COVID related. You should also consider rescheduling non-emergent slips to limit exposure.

Virus Screening

Getting ahead of the virus can help your facility to manage it better. There are different things to consider when screening staff vs. inmates:

  • When screening staff, sites should perform temperature checks on employees as the virus spreads. Keep in mind that this can be a challenge on resources, so it’s best to plan this process ahead of time.
  • Anyone can take a staff member’s temperature, but some sites may consider using medical assistants, CNA’s or others that can be hired on a temporary basis.
  • Remember, anyone who is interacting with potentially infected staff should be provided with PPE to do their job safely.
  • When screening inmates, be sure to include preliminary screening questions to your intake forms.
  • Create a list of vulnerable populations, including inmates with chronic disease, the elderly and other at risk populations. Providers should then review their chronic disease caseloads and “flag” their charts.
  • Inmates who are at greater risk should be considered for housing away from infected inmates.
  • Be sure to also consider the treatment plan in light of COVID-19.

Telehealth

Telehealth requirements have been loosened to accommodate the treatment needs of inmates during the COVID-19 epidemic. Now, more than ever, jails and prisons should be introducing or expanding telehealth resources, including:

  • Scaling up telehealth use before you begin to face the more severe effects at your site. Keep in mind that you may face staff shortages and will need to plan to keep essential services in place.
  • Protecting and retaining health employees. Telehealth can be utilized within the facility to minimize exposure to staff and inmates.
  • When it comes to mental and behavioral health services, you may want to consider moving to the provision of essential or emergent services only. Using telehealth or other alternative resources can help support inmates through the crisis.

Medication Passes

While many health related activities can be accomplished through Telehealth, access to medication is a priority. It is also a prime opportunity to expose and share the virus due to the nature of the distribution process.

  • Be sure to discuss how to effectively manage the passes so that both staff and inmate health is considered.
  • Understand that at some point you may need to consider distributing life-sustaining medications only. If you experience extreme staff shortages, you may also need to plan for reduced passes or combining resources.
  • One way to help prepare is to access your disaster plans and review with all staff before the virus potentially becomes widespread in your facility.

Visits

You’ll need to make decisions about limiting visits. The reality is that visitors and employees will increase the risk of exposure. Consider alternatives such as non-contact options or offering inmates increased phone call access.

By following all of these recommendations, your facility should be well on it’s way to being as prepared as possible for COVID-19 reaching your site. For more information, please visit the CDC Guidelines for Correctional Facilities.