DOC patient rates soaring

According to Pennsylvania Department of Corrections data, state DOC patient rates have soared from 2003 to 2018. Sue McNaughton, communications director for the DOC, attributed the jump to use of an electronic tracking system for medical information put into place in 2004. However, she did not explain the continued climb in rates across many categories between 2004 and 2018. (Graphic by Mike Tony)

The number of inmates in Pennsylvania’s state correctional facilities being treated for medical conditions has soared over time, according to data spanning the past 15 years.

Recorded by Diamond Pharmacy Services in Indiana County and obtained by the Herald-Standard through Right-to-Know requests, the data shows a significant increase throughout the majority of the state’s prisons from 2003 to 2018 across most of 20 different medical categories.

In 2003, about 28.6% of the state’s inmates were taking an analgesic (pain-relieving) medication, but by 2018, 73.84% were. The increase in percentage of state inmates on psychotropic medication was even greater, jumping from 16.73% in 2003 to 68.4% in 2018.

There was also an escalation over the same span in the percentage of inmates taking cardiac medication (from 17.24% to 45.36%), seizure medication (from 2.49% to 12.98%), pulmonary medication (from 12% to 24.28%) and gastrointestinal medication (14.55% to 33.52%).

Sue McNaughton, communications director for the DOC, attributed the jumps to use of an electronic tracking system for medical information put into place in 2004. However, she did not explain the continued climbs between 2004 and 2018, and could not be reached for further comment.

Diamond Pharmacy Services could not be reached for comment.

The health of female inmates

The state’s two prisons for women, SCI-Muncy in Lycoming County and SCI-Cambridge Springs in Crawford County, have housed a disproportionately high number of women from Fayette County over the years and have consistently had some of the highest percentages of inmate treatment over time.

According to DOC annual statistical reports from 2009 through 2018, Fayette County has had more court commitments of women to state prisons than any other counties in Pennsylvania with 610, except Philadelphia (933) and Delaware (665), which have the state’s highest and fifth-highest population totals respectively.

Washington County had 124 court commitments of women to state prisons in the same span, while Westmoreland County had 118, a fraction of Fayette County’s total despite having significantly larger populations. Greene County had 33 such commitments from 2009 through 2018.

Muncy and Cambridge Springs have been among the five state correctional facilities with the highest rates of psychotropic patients in all but one of the past 15 years: 2011, when Cambridge Springs had the sixth-highest rate.

SCI-Muncy Public Information Officer Troy Edwards and SCI-Cambridge Springs Public Information Officer Amy Boylan said all inmates receive a mental health evaluation upon reception and are followed as needed throughout their period of incarceration.

They said the DOC doesn’t collect information as it relates to someone having a prescription for psychiatric medications when they come to either facility.

Those prisons also had the highest and second-highest pulmonary treatment rates throughout all state correctional facilities from 2013 through 2018, and the highest seizure treatment rates respectively every year from 2012 through 2018 and ranked in the top three every year dating back to 2007.

The two women’s prisons have also had high cardiac, thyroid and gastrointestinal patient rates compared to other state correctional facilities.

Either Muncy or Cambridge Springs also had the highest cancer patient rate from 2007 through 2014 and have remained among the 10 facilities with the highest rates yearly since.

Edwards and Boylan declined comment on the medical treatment data for specific categories for SCI-Muncy and SCI-Cambridge Springs, saying they hadn’t reviewed the numbers.

Fayette, Greene state prisons

Locally, SCI-Fayette in Luzerne Township had the second highest cancer patient rates in 2017 and 2018 among state facilities.

When asked why there seems to be a significant prevalence of cancer at SCI-Fayette, Rhonda House, the facility’s public information officer, said the DOC’s oncology unit was moved there after SCI-Pittsburgh closed in 2017.

SCI-Fayette has been dogged by complaints alleging dangerous environmental conditions there due to the prison having been built near a coal ash dump – allegations the DOC has denied. In 2014, the Abolitionist Law Center and Human Rights Coalition released a report revealing illnesses consistent with coal ash exposure and reports from prisoners of chronic sore throats, extreme throat swelling, shortness of breath, headaches and mouth, nose, throat and skin tumors. The DOC investigated after the report was released, and officials said they found no credible evidence of unsafe conditions.

The cancer patient rate at SCI-Fayette, which opened in 2003, fell in the middle among all other state prisons in most years prior to 2017. The DOC cited its middling rates of cancer and pulmonary patients in its 2014 response the Abolitionist Law Center report, stating officials had “found no scientific data to support claims of any unsafe environmental conditions or any related medical issues to exist at SCI Fayette.”

SCI-Greene had average patient treatment rates among the state’s correctional facilities, but Progress Community Corrections Center at SCI-Greene had the highest analgesic medication rate among all facilities in 2017 and 2018, also having among the highest psychotropic, lipid-lowering and dermatological medication rates in recent years.

SCI-Greene’s public information officer could not be reached for comment.

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