The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office was notified in November of last year that “after considerable deliberation, the committee voted to withdraw the facility from NCCHC’s accreditation program.” The committee was the accreditation panel. The facility in question is the county jail, and the NCCHC is the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. The letter came over the signature of Vice President Tracey Titus. She went on to say “immediate correction is needed to support access to care for your patients.” This was no routine notice of incidental deficiencies that could be easily corrected. To date, they have not been.
A lengthy 20-page report outlined actions the NCCHC required be taken. The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the jail, is not responsible for management of inmate healthcare. The Department of Public Health operates and administers the detention center health and medicine program. Accreditation standards were the same for 20 years, and the jail maintained approved standards during that time. “It was only after the standards changed significantly that the jail health program lost its accreditation,” said Cumberland County Health Director Buck Wilson. He is on record as saying that funds needed to make the suggested improvements were not approved in the operating budget for the current fiscal year. Inmate care did not change, he added.
Wilson provided Up & Coming Weekly with an unedited copy of the Commission on Correctional Health Care’s report denying reaccreditation. The NCCHC health service accreditation curriculum for local jails is voluntary. There is no industry standard for inmate healthcare or requirement that health programs be accredited. Wilson said the health department conducted a survey of North Carolina jails in February and found that most of them are not accredited. They contracted with private business, which is what county commissioners are considering, given the recent report. The apparent belief is that the county can provide improved services at lower cost.
The NCCHC uses peer reviewing to determine whether local jails meet its standards for inmate health services. NCCHC also offers accreditation for opioid and venereal disease treatment programs. It’s the only accrediting body authorized by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that focuses on corrections. The curriculum outlines healthcare requirements in two categories:
Important Standards are those that require a minimum 85 percent compliance. The jail scored a 100 percent achievement in the October 2016 report.
Stricter Essential Standards require 100 percent compliance. The jail’s score was 82 percent, a failing grade.
The accreditation committee cited six areas of deficiency: (1) quality improvement studies did not include thresholds, nor were components of the studies evident; (2) not all inmates were tested for STDs; (3) regular treatment of inmates with chronic diseases is lacking. The committee also noted (4) improvement is needed for inmates with special health needs; (5) inmates on suicide watch were not monitored as they should have been; and (6) continued monitoring of patients experiencing withdrawal from the effects of chronic intoxication is required.
The final report notifying the sheriff’s office that reaccreditation had been denied observed that the Cumberland County Detention Center had been placed on probation in January 2016 following a review in September 2015. On October 23, 2016, the accreditation committee voted to withdraw the Cumberland County Detention Center from the accreditation program. “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 Assistant County Manager Sally Shutt.