By Naeisha Rose
State Assemblymen David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) and Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) held a nearly eight-hour hearing to address health care in New York state prisons and local jails Oct. 30 at the Legislative Office Building in Albany.
Weprin is the chair of the Committee on Correction and Gottfried is the chair of the Committee on Health.
Prison advocates who were at the hearing for the Legal Aid Society, the Prisoners Legal Services of NY and Justice & Unity for the Southern Tier, among others, identified challenges to providing health care to the approximately 50,000 people incarcerated in the state’s prisons and the 25,000 people in jails.
The advocates highlighted issues with obtaining a waiver from the federal government to utilize full Medicaid funding to pay for treatment to improve continuity of care upon release, staffing and quality control concerns, decentralized oversight of medical services and the complexity of continued care from one facility to another following release, according to the lawmakers.
Other issues included the use of for-profit correctional medical companies and the adequacy of health care for women inmates, the advocates said.
“It is well established that the failure to provide health care for prisoners with serious medical needs amounts to cruel and unusual treatment under the Eight Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” Weprin said. “One of the purposes of this hearing is to look at the provision of medical services to incarcerated people in New York State and to consider whether New York should meet community standards, or something like community standards in its medical care.”
Weprin directed questions to members of the state Dept. of Corrections and Community Supervision to learn what if any chronic gaps at the DOC needed to be addressed in terms of health care with legislation.
DOCS Commissioner Anthony Annucci denied that there were any problems with how his administration approached health care, but he provided context to the mounting cost for inmates with Hepatitis C and AIDS/HIV while touting the department’s new approach to patients with kidney problems in prison.
“To meet the needs of people with end stage kidney failure, DOCS now operates on site dialysis units at three facilities, Wende, Fishkill and Elmira [correctional facilities],” said Annucci.
The DOCS commissioner said that despite the decline of the prison population the total health care cost for inmates and parolees was in excess of $380 million, with $93 million dedicated to medication costs, because of the rise of AIDS and the acutely ill patients. Approximately $31 million of that cost was for Hepatitis C medication and more than 23 million was for AIDS/HIV medication.
DOCS had 19,000 hospital days for its prison population in 2016, which was 1,200 more days than in 2015, according to the commissioner.
Weprin left his door open to DOCS and the prison advocates who attended the hearing to address the issues plaguing prison health care in hopes of creating bills to mitigate the issues presented to him.
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose