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St. Louis County Looks To Increase Jail Medical Staff After Deaths

St. Louis County jail
File photo
The St. Louis County jail doesn't have enough permanent medical staff, public health officials say.

St. Louis County’s top public health officials want more medical workers at the county jail. 

The facility needs about 20 more full-time nurses to reach its ideal staffing level of 60, they say. 

Currently, the jail is relying on nurses hired on short-term contracts to fill the gaps in staffing, said Dr. Emily Doucette, co-director of the county’s public health department. 

The county is also trying to hire a chief medical officer and a chief operating officer for health care services at the jail. Both of those positions would be new in the county, Doucette said. The chief medical officer would be a physician who would work full-time in the jail overseeing health care. 

“Obviously, we are looking to solidify and get staff in place who are mission-driven to be in this environment,” Doucette said. 

The county jail is under scrutiny after four inmatedeaths this year. Three inmates died while in custody at the jail. A fourth died shortly after he was transferred to a state prison from the facility. 

Little information about investigations into the deaths has been released to family members or the media. 

St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell said investigations revealed “troubling” behavior at the jail in at least two of the deaths, though Bell declined to file criminal charges.

In response to the jail deaths, the county has revitalized the mostly dormant Justice Services Advisory Board made up of county residents. On Friday, the public health department gave the board an overview of adjustments it hopes to make to the jail’s medical staff in the wake of the deaths.

County public health co-director Spring Schmidt said additional training was already underway for nurses and correctional officers at the jail. Nurses are also being integrated into the overall jail staff more, she said. For example, they are now required to show up for roll call. 

But a wider overhaul — including the hiring of a chief medical officer and chief operating officer — will require more money, Schmidt said. The public health department, which provides the jail’s medical staff, will be asking for a funding increase in the county’s next budget. 

Both the jail and the public health department are chronically underfunded, Schmidt told the board. 

Lt. Col. Troy Doyle, the interim director of justice services, said a full medical staff is necessary. The jail is dealing with more inmates who are withdrawing from drugs while in custody, and who require medical attention.

Nurses also need to be screened for potential biases against inmates, said Tashonda Troupe, whose son Lamar Catchings died while in custody.

Follow Julie O'Donoghue on Twitter at @jsodonoghue

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