This past summer, I had the privilege of practicing side by side with the remarkable medical staff at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel. Nestled amid the confines of whorled, barbed-wire fencing and barricaded within guarded, gated thresholds, Hunt Correctional Center performs the critically important role of triage and medical evaluation of all inmates entering the state prison system. Often, these unfortunate individuals have rarely had access to a personal physician in the community before confinement and therefore present with advanced, severe disease states including HIV, chronic hepatitis C and tuberculosis — not to mention the usual illnesses that pervade society as a whole.
During that time, I witnessed high-quality health care that is nurtured and consistently provided to incarcerated patients in a variety of settings under the capable guidance of Warden Seth Smith, Assistant Warden Charlene Haydel (until her recent retirement), Medical Director Dr. Preety Singh, Director of Nursing Denise Harrison and Assistant Director of Nursing Wanda Dupuy.
The skilled nursing facility functions as a venue for treatments running the gamut from those typically provided for hospital inpatients (e.g., IV fluids/medications, oxygen, respiratory therapy) to long-term nursing home and hospice contexts. The psychiatric unit meets the challenging demands of prisoners wracked by the unconstrained ravages of mental illness. Telemedicine makes it possible for off-site specialists from LSU Medical School to offer expert opinions that might otherwise be difficult to obtain. On-site consultations are regularly assured in the fields of psychiatry, gastroenterology, neurology, optometry and dentistry among others. To ensure comprehensive follow-up, inmates have routinely scheduled appointments with their assigned primary care provider in the Hunt “outpatient” clinic.
None of this would be possible without a cadre of skillful, dedicated health care professionals: the physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, pharmacists and a variety of ancillary personnel working day by day, night after night, 24/7. In the deepest sense, they are unsung heroes, ministering tirelessly to a genuinely marginalized, frequently desperate population, “the least of these our brethren.”