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Correctional institutions have long faced unique health care challenges, and the rising cost and public perception burdens facing these organizations has added new layers of complexity to the issue. These complications are making policy management software and similar solutions more important than ever, as having workers on board with exactly what is and is not allowable is key in increasingly difficult operational climates.

California showcases challenges, potential of quality health care
California is a shining example of the challenges that arise when providing patient care, and the way that excellent care could end up changing fiscal dynamics for correctional institutes. A recent California Healthline report detailed the issues facing state correctional institutions in California. Here’s a quick look:

  • Overpopulation issues forced California to cede its correctional facilities to federal control in the early 2000s.
  • Since then, the state has been working to reduce prisoner populations, in large part to eliminate the numerous fiscal and operational challenges stemming from overpopulation.
  • Providing adequate health care is one of the major roadblocks to regaining control of prisons, as overcrowding has made care advances extremely difficult to achieve.
  • The state has made significant strides in improving care while also reducing inmate populations.
  • As California gradually regains control of its facilities from the federal government, it hopes to be able to reduce costs dramatically through better inmate care efforts that yield more sustainable operational and living environments.

California’s efforts emphasize the way that better care can help correctional institutions – keeping patients healthy can have a positive impact on day-to-day life in prisons, leading to lower costs on an ongoing basis. However, this doesn’t always solve cost of care problems on its own. Some facilities will instead turn to prisoner co-pays to overcome funding challenges.

Health care is an inmate right, but it isn't easy for correctional institutions to control costs.
Health care is an inmate right, but it isn’t easy for correctional institutions to control costs.

Co-pays present controversial decision for corrections facilities
State correctional institutions, like those in California, face a huge operational challenge trying to provide enough care to reduce everyday costs without spending so much on health care that they create a fiscal imbalance. According to an NPR report, having patients provide a co-pay for hospital visits and similar medical examinations is an increasingly popular option. While this creates a potential revenue source, there are some concerns among experts that the economically poor state of the majority of the prison population would make it difficult to sustain a co-pay strategy throughout a correctional center’s operations.

Requiring co-pays is particularly problematic, the report said, when it leads to patients avoiding care because they can’t afford it. While inmates may be deterred from unnecessary care by the fees, some may avoid getting medical attention, leading to potential harm and regulatory breaches as prisons are required to maintain a standard base level of care for all inmates.

Using policy excellence to keep pace with complex care requirements
Taken together, California’s battle for control of its prisons and the prisoner co-pay issue paint a clear picture – correctional facilities have flexibility to optimize health care strategies around their specific needs, but they are facing such complex decisions that they must create policies, and communicate those guidelines, that allow employees to make the right decisions about care. Your workers need to know precisely how you define mandatory and elective care, how to handle chronic health issues and what to do when interacting with inmates who are unhappy with the care options before them.

The decision-making challenges that come in creating broad health care strategies in correctional institutions stem down to the everyday choices made by security offices, nurses and doctors interacting with inmates. Document management software can streamline the process of creating policies, distributing them and ensuring internal compliance so that your employees will get the training and policy education they need to handle the rigors of inmate health care.