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New North Carolina DOC Hospital Promises Better Healthcare for Prisoners

With crowded prisons and an increasing percentage of prisoners age 50 and older, the North Carolina Department of Corrections (NCDOC) opened a $153.7 million medical complex at the Central Prison in Raleigh in November 2011.

The new complex includes a five-story, 167,000-square-foot hospital with 120 inpatient beds and outpatient clinics – making cancer treatment, CT scans and some surgeries available behind prison walls. The complex’s mental health center has an additional 216 inpatient beds, and the entire facility is staffed by more than 550 employees.

NCDOC officials said there was intense pressure to modernize medical care for prisoners due to rising costs, security concerns and overburdened community hospitals.

“We’ll save $300,000 in the first year on chemo [treatment], and that’s going to grow,” stated Dr. Paula Smith, the NCDOC’s chief of health services.

Prisoners over 50 years old represented 6.2 percent of North Carolina’s growing prison population in 2000. Ten years later that demographic nearly doubled to 12 percent, according to NCDOC figures, and older prisoners are prone to higher rates of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and heart problems.

Although the NCDOC will continue to use local hospitals for emergencies, major surgeries and treatment for chronic diseases, prison officials said the $90 million spent in 2010 for outside hospital care is expected to decline by at least 30 percent.

Prison employees drove more than 1,700 state prisoners to outside medical appointments in 2010 at a cost of almost $11 million, including the wages for guards assigned to keep an eye on prisoners who were hospitalized.

“We do feel like it is in the best interest of the public to have prisoners treated in a more controlled environment,” said Don Dalton, spokesman for the North Carolina Hospital Association.

Plans for the new prison medical complex began more than a decade ago, after the Central Prison infirmary, built in the 1960s, was found to be inadequately staffed and poorly managed, according to a federal report. The report was sparked by the death of a prisoner who died due to dehydration after four days in a mental health cell without water.
Ironically, after investing almost $155 million into the medical complex at Raleigh’s Central Prison, and another $48.3 million into a new 3-story, 300-bed medical and mental healthcare facility at the NC Correctional Institution for Women, in late 2011 the state considered privatizing prison medical services – including “medical, dental, emergency, pharmaceuticals, mental health services, healthcare personnel, program support services and all related support services and expenses for inmates.”

“Privatizing prison healthcare would be a disaster for North Carolina’s taxpayers,” said Dana Cope, Executive Director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina.

The state Department of Public Safety (DPS) issued a request for proposals (RFPs) for contracting out prison medical care in April 2012, but state lawmakers put the plan on hold by passing a bill on May 23, 2012 (SB 797) that barred DPS from issuing RFPs or contracts for prison medical services without legislative approval until June 2013.
The NCDOC spends around $244 million each year on prison healthcare, according to spokeswoman Pam Walker.

Sources:,, www.wcnc,com,,

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