Apr 17, 2023 - News

Audit finds "noncompliance" in Utah's prison system health care

Illustration of a red cross-shaped keyhole on a jail cell door.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

A scathing legislative audit presented to state lawmakers last week found a "culture of noncompliance" in the way Utah's prison system provides health care to incarcerated individuals.

Catch up quick: The Office of the Legislative Auditor General compiled the 84-page report as a follow-up to a 2021 audit that called attention to "systemic deficiencies" in the Utah Department of Corrections' health-related services for people in prison.

  • The previous audit outlined 13 recommendations to improve its inadequacies.
  • The report was focused on the Utah State Correctional Facility in Salt Lake City.

The corrections department told the Legislature last October that 11 of those recommendations had been carried out.

  • Yes, but: Auditors told lawmakers last week just four of the 13 recommendations had been implemented.

Threat level: The report uncovered emergency medical technicians didn't receive adequate supervision after finding critical medications, such as controlled substances, weren't recorded in the medical charts of prisoners.

  • "This is particularly concerning because we were not able to verify whether inmates were receiving medication," audit supervisor Nicole Luscher told lawmakers.
  • Retention among employees was another issue, the report found, with EMTs seeing a 97% turnover rate in 2022.
  • Auditors said unlocked biohazard bins and personal health information was left out in the open after being discarded in the trash.
  • The report also found diabetic prisoners waited longer than 30 minutes after taking insulin before eating, which is against American Diabetes Association recommendations. Instead, some inmates waited up to 110 minutes between insulin and meals.

What they're saying: "We feel that this illustrates the culture of noncompliance and the lack of accountability," Luscher said.

  • State Sen. Luz Escamilla (D-Salt Lake City) said she was "very disturbed" by the findings. "This seems to be a … very problematic and concerning approach to accountability and transparency," she said.
  • After the presentation, Brian Nielson, director of the Department of Corrections, acknowledged "some mistakes" on his part and said he would take accountability.

What's next: Starting July 1, the Department of Health and Human Services will oversee health care in the state's prison system.

  • Tracy Gruber, executive director of the state health department, told lawmakers the audit provided a clear picture of the Department of Corrections' pressing challenges and expressed confidence about moving forward.

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