Mt. Vernon Register-News

February 9, 2013

Time for residents to hear the truth




I think it is time for the people of Jefferson County to hear the truth about the former medical department at the Jefferson County Justice Center.

Unlike those who have never stepped foot in that department and insist on pontificating ad nauseum in the newspaper, I had worked “in the trenches” there for nearly 16 years. I know some of you are wondering why I would quit a job that Ted Buck says I made $700 an hour and according to Mr. Buck, rarely showed up for.

First of all, according to his letter to the editor in the Register-News, the county board had known “for years” that Dr. Parks and I had not made three visits per week. Stop right there. Our contract calls for two visits per week. When we were informed June 2012 we were to make three visits, we immediately did so. Only one time did we fail to do so — on Thanksgiving day. Again, Mr. Buck stated we would only work six or seven hours per month per the sheriff's report. On my honor, either the sheriff didn't have the proper information or its been so long since Mr. Buck heard the information he remembers it incorrectly.

The truth is, Dr. Parks and I would see 70 to 80 detainees per week, 52 weeks per year. If you multiply the lower end of that by $35 per detainee (the board at one point wanted us to charge per detainee) that is $127,400 per year. If you subtract our salary, that saves the county $79,000. By the way, try to get a doctor's visit for $35. Another way to look at our salary is we were on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year with all the liability that entails (we won't even talk about the cost of our malpractice for this job alone). The math on that figures out to $2.97 per hour. Where's that $700 per hour?

Dr. Parks, Sissy Brown and I spent countless unpaid hours writing policies and procedures in order to house ICE and federal marshal detainees. We spent our own time and resources visiting other facilities to better educate ourselves to do the best job possible for these paying beds. Never once did we receive any positive feedback. I worked with Good Samaritan Hospital to get 85 percent of the medical equipment donated to the jail, saving the county thousands of dollars. Again, not even a thank you. We just considered who we were dealing with.

The unvarnished truth of why Dr. Parks and I left the jail is the staffing in the medical department was critically deficient and we felt the liability was too great to continue working there. The staff was providing excellent patient care, but there was some sacrifice to less important tasks such as filing paperwork. This was brought to command staff on numerous occasions, and nothing was getting done to help with staffing. In fact, we had a meeting with command staff in November and felt like things were going to get better. That evening, after our meeting, a Major went to the medical department and told them he was hired to be the hatchet man and he was cutting three nurses (odd that he had just hired a personal secretary...). Obviously, under those circumstances, most of the staff sought other employment. At that point, Dr. Parks and I felt it was time to leave also.

Another popular myth is the ICE detainees were removed because of inadequate medical care. False. I spoke personally with Josh Pollman, the ICE liaison, on Nov. 29, 2012, and asked him about the allegations of poor care. HE stated he was pulling the chronically ill patients due to lack of staffing and some issues that hadn't been corrected on the correctional side. He said he had no issues with the care, but issues with the amount of help because it fell below standards. There was one physical that hadn't been dated, but had been corrected. After the nursing staff was told by a Major they could work for free because there would be no new staff, all but two left. That, along with some very minor paperwork errors, minor corrections problems, according to Josh, is why the detainees were pulled. The staffing issue was an ongoing problem that was brought to command staff since the middle of summer and their idea of fixing it was to cut more people.

I can't speak for others, but I know the nurses, EMTs and CNAs did the very best they could and put the detainees first. There is only so much one person can humanly accomplish.

I sincerely hope lessons are learned from this unfortunate incident. I learned the people you trust aren't always trustworthy, but I will continue to believe in people. I learned you should talk to all people involved in a situation before making important decisions that affect a lot of people's lives. I also learned that basing county finances on a historically non-revenue producing entity is devastating.

What saddens me is the adversarial relationship the County Board, and just recently, the command staff, has had with the medical department. They forget we are all on the same team. Dr. Parks and I are taxpayers in this county and during his 24-plus and my 16 year tenurer, we have strived to be good stewards of the county's resources, provide non-biased quality healthcare to the detainees, treat others with respect, and maintain our integrity. I wish I could say the same for those we have worked with.

Michelle Burwell

Jefferson County