Several months ago, there were things that simply could not come through the doors of the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail — things like morphine, Klonopin, tramadol Zyprexa and more.
Sunscreen, medicated lotions, vitamins and supplemental shakes were also on the “no” list.
After operating with a “banned” list of more than 40 medications, the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail has taken a new look at how it handles inmates’ prescriptions — and the “banned” list is no longer in place.
In July, the jail released a list of “banned medications,” which included some painkillers, psychotropic medications, narcotics and other controlled substances.
Since then, the “banned” list has been retracted and inmate prescriptions are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, which jail superintendent Tony Pham says is a “right-sized redirection” for continuing care of inmate patients.
“We need to do things different and better,” Pham said.
Medical policies are set by the jail’s doctor, a contracted employee from Mediko Correctional Healthcare.
If an inmate needs a “volatile” medication that could be dangerous if redistributed, the jail will address any security or safety issues by relocating the inmate to a different part of the facility, Pham said.
Since reviewing the jail’s policy on medications, Pham has also added medical staff so patients will not go more than a few days — at most — without being seen by a physician.
Previously, a doctor was only at the jail one day each week for eight hours. If a patient wanted to see the doctor, they would have to wait until that day of the week, unless it was an emergency situation, Pham said.
Now, there is a qualified mental health professional at the jail five days a week to conduct assessments, a nurse practitioner on Mondays, a psychiatrist on Tuesdays, and a physician on Thursday.
“What if the doctor was out sick?” Pham said. “A patient would have to wait another week without seeing someone.”
With the new staffing schedule, new inmates will be seen by a medical provider and their medications reviewed within two or three days of admission to the jail. The medical providers can also refill medications if an inmate runs out.
Pham said the physician’s schedule was set when the jail was smaller, and the number of hours spent at the jail did not evolve with a population increase over the years.
There were about 434 inmates at the jail as of Wednesday.
The jail also went online in late September with an electronic health system that stores inmates’ medical charts. It makes patient information more accessible, and in cases of recidivism, the jail will already have an electronic profile of the inmate’s previous treatment while incarcerated.
“The more information you have, the better armed you will be in making a decision,” Pham said.