Prisonology interviews Jack Donson, Bureau Of Prisons Case Manager - Retired, on the medical care available at federal prisons.
People have concerns about medical care when they travel, so we can imagine the concerns they have when entering federal prison. The BOP has a standard of care that is supposed to meet the level of that obtainable in the general community. However, this section talks about what that standard of care means and the best ways you can assure that you receive the care that you need.
You have to be your own advocate. If you do not feel well or have a health concern, do NOT take “No” for an answer if you feel that you can have better care.
Go through the chain of command to get attention to your needs. Often, your primary interface with BOP medical staff will be a physician’s assistant. If you need more attention than what that level of profession offers, ask to see a physician.
Get as much medical work done before prison as you can. While the standard is that the BOP will give you the same level of care as available in the community, it may not meet the standard of care you think that you need.
Know that things like hip replacements, knee replacements and many surgeries are likely to be put off by the BOP if they are not life threatening.
Dental surgery, bad cavities, an infected tooth or a damaged tooth in prison are usually treated by removal, and not replacement. Take care of your teeth.
Take advantage of preventative care programs in prison such as flu shots, physicals, mammograms, monitoring of blood pressure and dental cleanings.
If you find yourself in a local hospital, you are not free to have visitors without BOP permission. You are still under the rules of the BOP.
Try to stay healthy in order to avoid trips to the doctor.
Never share any medications that you are prescribed with other inmates.
Have a Living Will and Will, just in case of emergencies. BOP will attempt to revive anyone in an emergency, but this information would be for those at the hospital and should be on file with the BOP.
K.W. (Inmate) Medical Care
"The BOP hates lawsuits. So they will fix you IF you have a serious medical condition. I have been sent out to the hospital for two separate procedures since my incarceration. Kidney Stones and Wisdom teeth. (Wisdom teeth may not sound serious but I couldn't eat, so it was a “MUST HAVE” procedure). The good news is that I was taken out to the same doctors and surgeons as any normal person who needed surgery. The only downer is you are accompanied by two police officers and have wrist and ankle cuffs the entire time [K.W. is at a Low security level prison with Out Custody, for inmates in a prison camp with Community Custody there would be no wrist and ankle cuffs.]
Thank god I have good vision. I'm not too sure about eye care. I asked around compound and everyone said they have an eye doctor from the outside that comes in twice a month. I have also been very lucky with dental care in the BOP but I think its unique to every prison. I have even gotten my teeth cleaned twice a year since I have been here, but I hear this is not common at other institutions. One thing about the BOP ..they don't care if you are in pain, but they are NOT going to let you die. They seem to look at anyone who has issues. All you do is show up for 'sick call' (which they have 4 days a week at 7am) and then they call you back when you are scheduled (usually within 3 days) depending on how serious your exam went at 'Sick Call.' For a little rash it will take at least 3 days to a week. Staff may get to you that same day. Over all its not too bad and I think that's a fair statement."
G.B. (Inmate) Medical Care
"Medical care is very poor. Obama Care would be a blessing, but it excludes prisons. I had medical letters from 2 doctors regarding my migraine headaches, but my PA [Physician’s Assistant) decided I didn't need the medication (there are no migraine medicines on the BOP formulary). I went through the appeals process which would have given me access, but I was denied. The PA told me to look under a garbage can for an empty bag, fill it with ice and put it on my head to cure my migraines. Another nurse told me to take 3 Advil and 3 Tylenol (as if I had never tried it). You are basically treated like a child. We have no doctor on staff but we have a visiting doctor who comes a couple times a month. I saw him once and had a very positive experience although he couldn't help me with migraine medication (he really seemed like he cared). I got a different prescription for a drug that was on the BOP formulary with no problems.
It took about 14 months to see the dentist. I had no dental problems so I had a good experience. The dental office is filled with brand new equipment. I've seen other guys in camp missing teeth and found out that if you need work done, you most likely aren't going to get it. They will just pull your tooth and you will go without a tooth in your mouth.
It took me 8 months to see the eye doctor and she was pleasant and I had a good experience in her office. It took another 4 months to get my glasses and they were huge on my head. I went back to see her to get them adjusted to fit my face and was told she didn't have the equipment to bend them. She told me to do it myself. I bent them myself and cracked the frame in a number of places. I am waiting for my next appointment. I'm in my 26th month here."
J.L. (Inmate) Medical Care
"I just got back from the dentist. Here in [prison camp], the dental hygienists are excellent. I had a cleaning and they took Xrays. I waited 6 months for a cleaning appointment but it was as good as I would have received at my dentist’s office. The dentists [they have a few who visit the camp] are always pulling men’s teeth around here. When someone has a tooth problem, they do not do “work” like on the outside. If the pain is too much, the tooth gets yanked.
I went to the PA [physician’s assistant] only once since I have been here [over a year] and I have noticed that the office is always crowded. When I went it was no exception. I wanted to see if I could get a “soft shoe” pass to wear with my uniform. The pass is so that I could wear sneakers instead of the standard boots they give you here in prison. She told me “no” but gave me some arch supports. Better than nothing. By the way, when I go to the doctor here, they charge me a $2.00 co-pay, which they take out of my commissary account.
Sick call is at 6:45am, which inmates go to if they are feeling sick. I can tell you, it is no fun to be sick here, so I am doing everything possible to stay healthy (fitness, good diet and stay away from competitive sports).
There are a lot of men here in their 60’s. In fact, there are some men her in their late 70s and 80s. Obviously you see a good amount of wheelchairs/walker? Medical is so busy with these patients. Also, the general population has many health problems - some of the men are obese and diabetes is pretty common.
The eye doctor, who I just put in to see, is also about a 6-month wait for an exam for glasses. Glasses can be ordered and it takes about 3-4 weeks for them to come in. I think they are a $2.00 co-pay."