Cumberland County Commissioners are working on two fronts to improve medical services provided to detention center inmates. The board is preparing to request proposals from firms interested in contracting with the county to provide health care at the jail, which is among the state’s largest detention centers with more than 800 inmates. County Commission Chairman Glenn Adams has empaneled “a working group to review deficiencies in the jail health program and to develop a corrective action plan,” said Assistant County Manager Sally Shutt. “The chairman appointed a subcommittee of the group to review the accreditation findings and to report recommendations back to the working group on corrective actions within the existing jail health program operated by the Cumberland County Department of Public Health,” Shutt added.
Jail health care is administered by the department of public health, not the sheriff’s office. The detention center’s health program lost its accreditation in November 2016, “following significant changes to the accreditation standards,” said Public Health Director Buck Wilson. The National Commission on Corrections Health Care put it differently in its report: “There are very serious issues that suggest the basic health care needs of the patient population are not being met.”
The NCCHC is widely recognized for its recommendations for the management of correctional health services systems. They specifically outline procedures for county jails as opposed to prisons. Manuals for mental health services and opioid treatment programs are included. The commission says the standards cover care and treatment, health records, administration, personnel and medical-legal issues. These essential resources have helped correctional and detention facilities improve the health of their inmates. And they reduce the risk of adverse legal judgments. County Attorney Rick Moorefield told commissioners that instances of legal challenges by inmates have been reduced significantly over the years with advances in jail health care. He noted that the Cumberland County Detention Center infirmary cannot be utilized to its fullest unless the program
Wilson says there is no industry standard, and participation in accreditation programs is not required. “The Department of Public Health conducted a survey in February” and found “most of the jails in North Carolina that responded to the survey are not accredited.” Thirty-four counties responded to the survey. Wilson noted that “only four health departments operated the jail health program; 30 used another
entity to operate jail health.” Most of those did not have accredited health care programs.
Sheriff Ennis Wright prefers accreditation, as did his predecessor, retired Sheriff Moose Butler. “Providing non-accredited health services is a dangerous thing,” said Sheriff’s Attorney Ronnie Mitchell. Wilson sought funding to meet the higher jail health accreditation standards but was denied. “Accreditation standards were the same for 20 years, and Cumberland County’s program stayed accredited throughout that time,” Wilson said. “It was only after the standards changed significantly that the jail health program lost its accreditation,” he noted. “Moving forward, the County will be looking at all aspects of the jail health program and is utilizing the request for proposals process to determine the most cost-effective manner for providing jail health services,” said Shutt.