The city-parish is looking to spend nearly $100,000 to study the East Baton Rouge Parish prison’s medical operations, after medical workers complained in Augustthat they are dangerously understaffed, underfunded and overworked.

Around 10 medical staff members begged the Metro Council for a lifeline during their August meeting, saying that they lack supplies as simple as Neosporin and as important as EKG machines that show if a patient is having a heart attack. Prison physician Rani Whitfield said their top need is hiring more nurses, who are spread so thin that one or two often cover shifts meant to be filled by five.

An agenda item set to be introduced in front of the Metro Council next week would give $95,000 to consulting firm Health Management Associates to analyze the prison’s medical operations.

Health Management Associates describes itself as a national research consulting firm that specializes in publicly financed health care. It is a different company from the for-profit hospital corporation, also called Health Management Associates, that was the subject of multiple whistle blower lawsuits over wrongfully admitting patients to hospitals to reap extra money.

When city-parish Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel initially suggested hiring an outside firm to study the problems, Metro Councilwomen Donna Collins-Lewis and C. Denise Marcelle said it was not a quick enough solution.

Prison medical workers told of harrowing conditions, as the closure of the Earl K. Long Medical Center in north Baton Rouge and the Baton Rouge General MidCity Emergency Room have contributed to their problems and lack of resources. Four of the 25 nurses on staff are out on stress leave, while they need 35 to 40 nurses to properly serve the prison, said nursing director Beatrice Stines.

“It’s true that we have a sicker inmate population, and without proper resources, supplies and more boots on the ground in the form of nursing staff, we are unable to efficiently care for the patients’ increasing morbidity, mortality and, ultimately, liability,” Whitfield said.

The jobs are not the most attractive of positions, because starting salaries for nurses range from $17 to $18 an hour and the highest-paid nurse still earns under $25 an hour.

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