Christiana Care will review health care services in Delaware prisons

(Marc Levy/AP Photo, file)

(Marc Levy/AP Photo, file)

Delaware’s prison system will undergo a six-week, independent review of its medical and behavioral health care services, officials said Thursday.

In September, the state’s largest hospital system, Christiana Care, will interview staff and inmates, visit the sites, and evaluate policies free of charge “as a service to the community.”

Christiana Care does not have expertise in prison health care, but has agreed to provide recommendations based on health care industry standards.

Department of Correction Commissioner Claire DeMatteis said Christiana will recommend how to improve quality, safety, and data management.

Christiana will also make suggestions on how to use clinical data and analytics to manage inmates’ chronic medical conditions.

“The overall goal is to understand the quality of care being delivered in our facilities. When an inmate has a medical condition, are we treating it properly? What are the outcomes? Do we make him or her healthier? Or are they returning a week later with the same complaint?” DeMatteis said.

“Much like when you go to the hospital, you expect to be treated timely, and to have your medical need addressed,” she added. “We want to have those same benchmarks people have when they go to the hospital when they go to the infirmary at one of our correctional facilities.”

Health care services in Delaware’s prisons have come under scrutiny by lawmakers, as well as inmates and their families.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers unanimously approved a bill reforming a committee charged with monitoring prison health care in the state.

The bill was introduced after the attorney general’s office confirmed it was investigating allegations that DOC’s medical contractor, Connections Community Support Programs, had ordered staffers to forge documents to falsely state inmates were getting mental health treatment they never received.

Connections also faces a host of inmate lawsuits.

In July, the family of Luis Cabrera sued Connections, alleging that prison staff ignored his symptoms and that his death in November 2018 could have been prevented.

Connections CEO Cathy McKay said she’s “thrilled” with the decision to conduct an independent review.

Connections’ $60 million medical and behavioral health contracts with the state expire on June 30, 2020, and the state is preparing to open a new bidding process.

“This review will hopefully establish clear benchmarks for the quality of care, the equipment needed to provide that care, and the true costs associated with providing care in one of the most challenging environments imaginable,” McKay said.

This is not the first time Delaware’s prison health care services have been reviewed. Last year, the National Conference on Correctional Health Care Resources Inc. found lengthy wait times and outdated technology at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna.

DeMatteis said all the recommendations from that report, which focused on the sick-call process, have been implemented. Now, she said, the department is also making changes to its grievance process.

“Many of our grievances were about the fact their sick-call slips weren’t getting attention,” she said. “So we’ve gone a step further and are making reforms to the grievance process to make sure when officers receive complaints from inmates, there’s a standard operating procedure for how they’re going to be addressed.”

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Justice and the state entered a memorandum of agreement under which Delaware agreed to take specific actions to improve its medical and mental health care services.

DeMatteis said September’s review will be self-led and more holistic than similar reviews have been in the past.

“This is something we’re doing proactively on our own … We’re going to look at clinical quality benchmarks,” she said, “for patient safety, disease management, keeping people healthy, continuity of care for offenders under our supervision.”

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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