Staffing shortages are hurting sick prisoners at Norfolk prison, advocates claim

Staffing shortages are hurting sick prisoners at Norfolk prison, advocates claim

By Sarah Betancourt
January 26, 2022

Attorneys and advocates for patients at a state prison’s critical stabilization unit, which houses prisoners who are sick or ailing, say they’re worried about the impact of low staffing levels on their clients.

Prisoners and advocates report a nursing shortage and lack of a permanent medical director are affecting operations at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute at Norfolk, leaving high-needs prisoners with inadequate care. A COVID-19 outbreak also recently spread through the 16-bed unit, infecting over a third of inmates in early and mid January. The state Department of Correction claims it currently has no positive COVID-19 cases, but one attorney said his 78-year-old client still has the disease, along with a severe ongoing cardiac condition.

Kate Piper, a paralegal at Prisoners’ Legal Services who works with many of the men at MCI-Norfolk, claimed that there has been no “dedicated doctor for the whole prison, including the CSU,” since the last medical director left, and that nurses are overwhelmed.

“So the overnight nurse is frequently in multiple times a week, working double shifts, or 16-hour shifts,” she said. Usually, prisoners from general population would work in the critical stabilization unit in a similar way certified nursing assistants work in the free world: changing soiled sheets, helping inmates take showers and offering companionship. But the general population prisoners are unable to be in the critical stabilization unit due to a COVID-19 related lockdown, according to Prisoners’ Legal Services.

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