Durbin Introduces Bill To Improve Healthcare Services At Local Jails
Legislation would expand the National Health Service Corps to include county and municipal correctional facilities
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – With 64 percent of jail inmates suffering from mental health problems – and even more enduring short or long-term physical health conditions – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced legislation today to improve mental and other healthcare services at local jails by expanding the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) to include county and municipal correctional facilities. As many of these inmates return to disadvantaged neighborhoods after their sentences, growing healthcare services at local jails – especially mental and behavioral health services – will help reduce recidivism and improve public safety.
Although state and federal prisons are included in the NHSC program – which places dedicated health care professionals in medically underserved areas in return for student loan assistance – county and municipal correctional facilities are not. These facilitates are excluded despite the fact that in many states – including Illinois – county and municipal correctional facilities are housing thousands of prisoners for increasingly long sentences. The Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois houses 9,000 inmates and is now one of the largest provider of mental health services in the country.
“Even if someone is incarcerated, they are still entitled to necessary medical care. The National Health Service Corps has improved access to healthcare for thousands of Illinoisans in medically underserved areas, including our state and federal prisons,” Durbin said. “Local jails like the Cook County Department of Corrections are serving larger prisoner populations with increasingly long sentences and high rates of mental illness. Improving local jails’ ability to recruit skilled, committed healthcare professionals and expand their inmates’ access to behavioral health services and other healthcare will help reduce recidivism and improve public safety. State and federal prisons are already included in this program for these very reasons. It is only logical to include county and municipal correctional facilities as well.”
As a member of the NHSC, primary care, oral health, and behavioral health clinicians are eligible to receive up to $50,000 in federal assistance to help repay their health profession student loans. In exchange, these healthcare professionals make a two-year commitment to work in a medically underserved area, including federally qualified health centers, rural clinics or hospitals, school-based clinics, community mental health centers, state or local health departments, and free clinics.
In 2014, more than 9,200 primary care, dental, and behavior and mental health professionals were members of the NHSC, providing care at 4,900 medically underserved sites, including state and federal prisons.
With county and municipal correctional facilities housing thousands of prisoners for increasingly long prison sentences, expanded healthcare services at these facilities is necessary. Cermak Health Services – which is operated by Cook County and based in the Cook County Jail – estimates that approximately 2,500 inmates require medical attention at any given time. These inmates are diagnosed with health conditions at a drastically higher rate than the general population, and often return to the same underserved communities the NHSC was designed to help.
By expanding the NHSC, county and municipal jails can better attract highly qualified behavioral, and medical, health professionals.
This legislation is supported by the National Association of Community Health Centers, the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved, the National Association of Counties, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, the National Association of County Behavioral Health & Developmental Disability Directors, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association.
Previous Article Next Article