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CP Photo: Lisa Cunningham

Allegheny County Jail

Allegheny County Jail officials are reviewing how they provide medical care to better allocate resources.

The shared interdisciplinary patient care program, announced today by Superintendent Orlando Harper, began earlier this week shortly after the university-led survey found high levels of dissatisfaction with health care services among people in prison.

The University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work conducted a survey of inmates in 2021 and released the results in July. 66% of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with medical care in the pre-trial detention center. Common themes in the open-ended responses included long wait times for medical care, problems obtaining medication, not receiving adequate treatment, and problems with dental care.

The new interdisciplinary patient care program has a team of health professionals assigned to each level of the facility, rather than operating from a centralized location. This change is designed to ensure continuity of care, reduce wait times and better coordinate clinical needs.

The teams are made up of county-hired medical practitioners and Allegheny health care providers under a contract between the jail and AHN. Each includes a physical health provider and a behavioral health provider from AHN, as well as a licensed practical nurse, a mental health professional and a corrections officer from the county.

“We’ve brought staff together to determine the most efficient way to serve patients, ensure rapid access to care and make sure problems are resolved as quickly as possible,” said Dr. Ashley Brinkman, the jail’s health administrator. “We have found very successful results and positive feedback from both our staff and our patients.”

The pilot program has been in place since August, and its success has led to a recent expansion to all levels of the facility, prison officials say.

The program is modeled after an outpatient medical facility, where providers assess people’s physical health care needs, according to a news release. If serious health problems arise, people are seen at the prison medical clinic on the same day. Administrators and staff hold weekly meetings to provide feedback and collect data.

The jail says the program will streamline the way health care is delivered to increase speed and efficiency, maximize the use of resources, create stronger provider-patient relationships and improve patient outcomes.

“We know that many people who are incarcerated have not had regular access to health care, which makes the services provided in the jail even more important to their safety,” Harper said. “This new approach to correctional health care at our facility, supported by our medical staff, will benefit everyone in our custody.”