Behind locked doors, inside the walls of the Onondaga County Justice Center, CNYCentral got a rare glimpse today.
It is a place that houses some 600 inmates who have always had access to medical care while behind bars, but a new infirmary is bringing the hospital, in a sense, right to them.
Deputies and jail medical personnel took CNYCentral on an exclusive tour of the new infirmary. It is designed to take medical care to a new level to treat acute and chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, high cholesterol and more. "It may be somebody who's pregnant who requires closer monitoring while she's incarcerated," said Dr. Anne Calkins, Medical Director at the Justice Center. "It may be a person with sleep apnea that needs a sleep apnea machine at night and so we have the capabilities of doing that here."
The wing is manned 24 hours a day by a registered nurse. It can house up to 12 inmates at a time and cuts back on the need to transport them to the hospital for treatment. "More often then not, there was movement between here and the hospitals. As we all know, the ER departments are overcrowded. We believe that delivering continuity of care is better care for the inmate," Calkins said.
Just like in the hospital, the new infirmary is equipped with a call bell, giving inmates a direct line to medical staff. They also have access to hospital beds, a blood drawing station and bathtub facilities for wound care. "They're in our custody. They're in the custody of the Sheriff. It's up to us to make sure that they get taken care of," said Esteban Gonzalez, Chief Deputy of the Justice Center.
Since 2009, there have been two high profile deaths at the jail. Could they have been preventing if this new infirmary existed years ago? "Those horrible incidences that occurred would have occurred anyway," Gonzalez said. "The infirmary just would have had someone at risk medically probably living in the infirmary while they're here in the Justice Center with a closer eye."
Many inmates come in needing not only medical care, but mental health counseling and treatment for substance abuse. The new infirmary not only increases staff, but adds an advanced level of training for the medical team.
Plans for a new mental health unit are already in the works. There is still no timetable for when it will be built.