Medical services at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison are improving, but the nurses who work there are still in need of more coworkers and more supplies, according an updated Prison Medical Services report presented at Wednesday’s Metro Council meeting.
The prison’s medical unit has only been able to hire one new employee in the past six months, according to EMS administrator Chad Guillot, who oversees the prison’s medical operations. They still need to fill spots for six medical technicians, who are usually licensed practical nurses, and one assistant nursing services director.
“It’s not the best place to work, we don’t have fun out there, it’s a hard place to work,” said Dr. Rani Whitfield, who is a contract physician at the prison.
Guillot and Rintha Simpson, the interim prison health care manager, said they have recently ordered some of the most desperately needed equipment, including wheelchairs, blood pressure cuffs and laceration kits.
But the nurses who take care of the prisoners still said they are missing supplies they need like EKG machines and exam tables.
“Our equipment is like a bathroom scale,” said LaDonna Raine, a prison health care tech.
Simpson said ordering new wheelchairs was the first priority and that they arrived a couple of weeks ago. She said scales and hospital beds are next on the list.
Another problem plaguing the prison medical facility — and a factor that keeps them from being able to afford some supplies — is the amount of money that must be spent on medication, Guillot said. The state used to cover the cost of HIV/AIDS medication, but Guillot said that changed between 2010 and 2011, when prison medical had to start paying for it themselves.
The medication and lab costs have risen since then. Guillot estimated that they spend between $120,000 and $140,000 a month on medication, most of which is to treat HIV.
Metro Councilman Chandler Loupe suggested Guillot explore whether the prison can qualify for federal funding to pay for HIV medicine. Multiple organizations in Baton Rouge receive federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS funding that helps pay for patient treatment.
Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis said she toured the prison’s medical facility a few weeks ago and that she was shocked by the conditions.
“I don’t even know how you know what’s in the medical supply room, you have stuff stacked to the ceiling,” Collins-Lewis said. “I know people don’t want to hear this, but we do need a new prison facility, it’s deplorable.”
The family of Paul Cleveland, who died at age 72 in Baton Rouge’s prison, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against in the prison in November 2015 in which they named Prison Medical Services as a defendant. The lawsuit claims that prison officials and medical workers were “completely inadequately equipped to recognize and treat” Cleveland’s mental illness.
Prison Medical Services, through its attorneys, asked U.S. District Judge John deGravelles in December 2015 to dismiss the lawsuit, which is still being tried in federal court. They said Cleveland received plenty of care from medical specialists, nurses, social workers and others.
In other news, the Metro Council quickly approved a lease agreement that will allow the library system to start moving out of the downtown River Center Branch Library, which is slated to be demolished and rebuilt. The council deferred voting on it last month after a contentious discussion where some members said the rent amounts for a temporary location downtown were too high.
Several groups sent letters to the council members in the days leading up to the meeting and asked them to approve the temporary library site in the Kress Building at 447 3rd Street. Those who wrote letters included the Downtown Development District, the Spanish Town Civic Association, the Beauregard Town Civic Association, the Downtown Business Association and the Downtown Baton Rouge Civic Association.
With no discussion, the council voted 7 to 3 to approve the Kress Building as the downtown library’s interim branch while the River Center Branch Library is being rebuilt.
“This location is in the heart of Baton Rouge’s art and entertainment district, attracting thousands of people to its cultural attractions and providing the essential amenities needed by the public,” wrote Downtown Development District Executive Director Davis Rhorer.
Collins-Lewis, Loupe, Joel Boe, Tara Wicker, LaMont Cole, Erika Green and Chauna Banks-Daniel voted to allow the lease to move forward. Buddy Amoroso, John Delgado and Ryan Heck voted against it, and Trae Welch and Scott Wilson were not present for the vote.
The library system will lease the building for 30 months, and the lease will cost $14,583.33 a month during the first year. The library system has assured the Metro Council that it has already saved up the money for the lease.
The council also allowed the library to enter a contract with the moving group The Quality Group Inc. to relocate the River Center branch’s furnishings before the demolition. The contract is for $161,773.
Additionally, the Metro Council voted to allow the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport to increase parking fees by $2 a day to help pay for $5 million in improvements to one of the airport’s parking garages.
None of the council members voted against the fee increase. Rates to park in the garage will go from $10 to $12 a day, while rates for the lot would increase from $7 to $9 daily.