Special to The Dallas Examiner
In 2006, when Dallas County Commissioners asked Parkland Health & Hospital System to take over the health care services for inmates in the Dallas County Jail, Parkland leaders saw an opportunity to create a state-of-the-art care model that could be replicated in correctional units across the country. Parkland representatives claim to have repaired a broken system, but moreover, they believe they have now gone a step further and created a unique program believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.
The Correctional Health Nursing Residency program, offered by Parkland’s Clinical Education department, is a 12-week course that includes classroom instruction and a clinical preceptorship. Offered twice yearly, the program is designed to provide the education and experiences necessary to become highly-skilled correctional health nurses. The curriculum includes content that covers all spectrums of correctional health from juvenile services to psychiatric services.
“The core content covers safety and the legal and ethical aspects of correctional health nurses,” said Debra Johnson, RN, BSN, Parkland’s Correctional Health Residency Coordinator. “This residency includes skills you would learn in any hospital or clinic setting such as the medical and nursing management of acute, chronic and mental illnesses, but we’ve added the clinical application and technical skills common to correctional health areas.”
Those skills are invaluable for a health care delivery system that sees more than 100,000 people each year.
One Correctional Health Nurse resident, who chose to use the name Patrick, saw the residency as something much more. For nine years, he served as a correctional officer before deciding to enroll in the University of Texas at Arlington’s School of Nursing. As he met nurses working at the Correctional Health facility and learned of their backgrounds and what brought them to the Parkland program, Patrick said that for the first time he saw those incarcerated not as “offenders” but as “patients.”
Another resident, who chose to use the name Carly, looked at the residency as an opportunity to do something different with her nursing career. Having enjoyed nearly two decades as a pediatric nurse, Carly decided it was time to make a change and sought out Parkland’s correctional health program as a way to take her nursing skills in a new direction.
Like Carly, Johnson said there are many who enter the residency after years in a nursing specialty, but there are others who hear about the program and opt for a complete career change.
Each person booked into the Dallas County Jail receives an initial medical screening at central intake. It’s there that some may first learn of a chronic illness such as hypertension or diabetes, Johnson said.
“We’re providing basic nursing. We care for those with acute illnesses in the infirmary, pass out medications in the towers, and along with the medical staff see those with emergencies – we just do it in a jail setting,” he explained.
Although the thought of steel doors slamming behind them may not appeal to some, Johnson said there have been very few nurses who have opted out of correctional health because of safety concerns. Dallas County Sheriff’s Deputies are always present when patients are treated. Parkland staff and Dallas County Sheriff’s guards are trained in Satori Alternative to Managing Aggression methods where participants learn safe and least restrictive interventions designed to help manage an individual in crisis.
Listening intently to others in the room, resident Wayne, as he choose to be called, said he spent years working as a hospital tech and this would be his first full-time registered nurse position. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, but said he was “looking forward to starting his nursing career and serving the community.”
“The health care we provide in the jail is extremely important to the health of the community as a whole,” said Esmaeil Porsa, M.D., Parkland’s Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy & Integration Officer. “The Dallas County Jail is unique in that it serves as both the city and county jail. Research has shown that if we address individual’s medical needs while they are incarcerated, when they’re released back into society, the well-being of the entire community is improved.”