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Utah prison audit finds ‘systemic deficiencies’ in healthcare treatment

A photo of barbed wire wall at prison.
The state legislative audit found inmates were given inadequate or inappropriate medical care.

A new audit by the Office of the Legislative Auditor General found several “systemic deficiencies” in the Utah prison healthcare system that are negatively impacting patient care

The findings were presented to lawmakers Tuesday evening. They cited several instances of inadequate care ranging from delayed care of medically vulnerable inmates to HIPAA violations.

After reviewing 76 cases that spanned over a three year period, auditors and a medical expert found inmates were often given inadequate or inappropriate care.

Some diabetic inmates, after receiving insulin, did not receive food within recommended time frames, the report found.

They also found noncompliance with mental health assessments and on multiple occasions found personal information, medical equipment and medicine were improperly discarded.

Brian Dean, audit manager, said the primary reason for the systemic deficiencies is inadequate oversight on multiple levels of personnel.

Auditors said they uncovered patient treatment sheets, improperly discarded syringes and medicine on multiple occasions, even after they’d informed management.

The report also found that oversight of prison medical services regarding COVID-19 cases could improve. The audit comes as a recent outbreak occurred in some units at the state prison in Draper last month.

Auditors delved into prison dumpsters where they found patient treatment plans, used syringes and medicines.
Screenshot of the prison audit report
Office of the Legislative Auditor General
Auditors delved into prison dumpsters where they found patient treatment plans, used syringes and medicines.

Some lawmakers pointed to emails they received from constituents shortly after auditors finished, citing conditions at the prison were worse than before.

Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, read an email Tuesday from Wendy Parmley, director of medical and mental health issues for Utah Prisoner Advocate Network, about an inmate who wasn’t receiving proper care.

Mr. Herbert Smith is a double amputee,” Schultz said. “Let’s see, no wheelchair or shower chair for a double amputee below the knees, requiring him to crawl around on the stumps, including in the shower, puts him at risk for infection or an injury.”

Brian Nielson, executive director for the Utah Department of Corrections, said he wasn’t aware of the issue. He said he was grateful for the report and has begun to implement some of the recommendations.

“With this audit we have an excellent roadmap to implement,” Nielson said. “Additional changes will help us continue to improve. We've detailed our response, the actions we're prepared to take to fully implement all recommendations of this audit.”

Parmley said she was disappointed in the director's response to the report.

She said that it shouldn’t entail more meetings, instead it should be a strong action plan to address the issues uncovered.

“Coming from a background of nursing leadership, and from many, many years of working within an organization that really takes outcome measures seriously, and the quality of patient care as the very most important thing that we can do as health care providers — I was disappointed in their action steps,” she said.

She said the directors focused too much on cost savings instead of saving lives.

Parmley said these are issues they’ve been advocating for a long time, and now they're being acknowledged by the state.

“I've reached out to the two other directors with significant concerns of lack of care and follow up and egregious concerns from a nursing perspective — from a medical perspective,” she said, “and in reading the report, there was validation that those concerns were real.”

Nielson said they plan to address the issues in the report by March 2022.

Ivana is a general assignment reporter
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