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Every year, I try to write a letter concerning the sacrifices made by the thousands of correctional workers in our county and the country, but as Correctional Workers Week often coincides with Nurses Week, I have chosen to write about the nurses who serve as primary care providers for the carceral population.
Their work is compounded by the nature of the disease processes they see their counterparts in the community may not; especially from those incarcerated from Central and South America. The physical age of many they see is 10-15 years older than their chronological age given the lifestyle choices of the offenders. Many offenders have lacked preventive care throughout their life and the first time many have had comprehensive care is when the registered nurse provides a health care assessment.
These nurses also treat those with serious and persistent mental illness, most who remain in general populations across the country. And there is the occasional recalcitrant who for whatever reason lashes out at a nurse by verbal and sometimes physical violence.
Their counterparts in the community often make more money and have better benefits so it is no wonder nurse turnover can be great unless the correctional leadership is able to either match pay and benefits or demonstrate the long-term benefits of public service retirement. And all of this before COVID-19.
These nurses, like those in the community, are facing challenges never seen before. In prisons and jails, these challenges are compounded through close living quarters. But for some reason they persevere and continue. Most do not know the sacrifices they make during the best of times, but really do not appreciate their sacrifice during these times. Thank you seems so inadequate.
Editor’s note: National Correctional Workers Week was May 3-9 and National Nurses Week was May 6-12.