Report says state not in compliance in nine areas

Wednesday, November 24th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- A progress report on medical conditions in the state's prisons showed at least nine areas where the state Corrections Department isn't in compliance with an April order to take corrective action. Dr. Robert Greifinger, a consultant in the longstanding class action lawsuit seeking prison improvements, said an investigation found serious breaches in the tuberculosis control policy, deficiencies in the care of mentally ill inmates as well as shortcomings in other areas. Greifinger's quarterly progress report was released this week.

He noted serious breaches of the tuberculosis control plan at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center and the Joseph Harp Correctional Center between June and October. "The TB control policy is in place, but there has been insufficient training," he said. He said one case handled poorly from the start resulted in the potential exposure of staff and inmates to the infectious disease.

Greifinger said that a case of tuberculosis was found because of his visit to Lexington in October. The inmate was in the general prison population from July 9 until Oct. 20, 1999. Greifinger said in another case an inmate at Joseph Harp suspected of having tuberculosis was housed in the mental health unit instead of in a respiratory isolation room.

In June, an inmate with active tuberculosis was left in the state penitentiary's general population longer than necessary, potentially exposing hundreds of staff and inmates to risk. Dr. Marion Page, a former chief of mental health services for the Illinois Department of Corrections, examined the department's care of mentally ill inmates. He recommended more intervention and suicide prevention efforts. He said the department needed to tighten its policy on how suicidal patients are monitored. "One incident that led to usage of restraints was where an inmate, after already being placed on medical observation, wrapped a large piece of cellophane around his head and was twisting it around his neck in order to suffocate himself," Page said.

He also questioned whether the use of physical restraints on the mentally ill sometimes "appeared misguided, if not punitive, rather than therapeutic, in nature." He said in one case an inmate was in restraints for 21 days. He said restraints should be ordered for no more than 12 hours. U.S. District Judge Michael Burrage is considering a settlement agreement in the decades-old case. State legislators have agreed to spend $7.2 million for medical improvements. Greifinger cited as areas of noncompliance the percentage of medical post vacancies, psychiatric review of mentally ill inmates, lack of quality management policy and nurse training for physical assessments