Better Care, Better Outcomes, Better Lives

The following article was written by Wellpath Health Services Administrator Cody Pittman, RN from the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex. The article was featured in KBD Connection. Click to view the issue here. 

For the past five years, I have dedicated my nursing career to helping an underserved population. While I do not walk into a hospital, a nursing home, a school, or a rehab facility every day, I do step foot behind bars. My name is Cody Pittman and I am a Registered Nurse for the state of KY and I practice within the correctional setting.

Let me give you a little background on Correctional Nursing and what it is not. It is not just placing a Band-Aid on patients. Ic is not just giving a patient Tylenol. It is not telling a patient we are not going to treat him/her. It is the total opposite of everything previously mentioned. I will be the first to admit when I heard of Correctional Nursing my initial thoughts were, “Ok, is this job pretty much like a school nurse Monday through Friday?” Of course not! Correctional Nursing is a 24 hour a day, 365 day a year operation.

Stigma. We all know what it means, and it is a word Correctional Nurses hear too often. I can assure you we did not come to corrections because a hospital did not want to hire us. Look at the current concerns with short-staffing in hospitals nationwide. Every one of us could have been hired into a hospital if we wanted to but then again being a Correctional Nurse is a calling. It takes a special person who has patience, dignity, honesty, compassion, and strong nursing skills.

A fun fact you may not know, the ANA (American Nurses Association) has recognized Correctional Nursing as a specialty since 1985. There are certifications you can obtain secondary to your nursing license for Correctional Nursing such as the CCHP (Certified Correctional Healthcare Professional). This certifies you just like a CCRN (Critical Care Registered Nurse) certifies you in critical care.

Imagine caring for patients who have never sought healthcare in their lives. Imagine telling a patient in his/her twenties that he/she has Hepatitis and liver failure. Imagine telling a patient who was so excited to be released in two years that he/she now has stage four cancer. Lastly imagine having a patient tell you he/she does not feel right and is coughing up blood, knowing full well that a pulmonary embolism is a possibility. I have witnessed every one of these scenarios in my short years as a Correctional Nurse.

Let me take you back to my first code within corrections. During this time, I held the title of Director of Nursing. While sitting in my office on payroll day and attending to timecards, I witnessed approximately four nurses, along with an APRN, run past my office. Radio traffic was elevated, something was not right. So, I went to see if I could be of assistance. While walking up to the dorm, my heart sank. The patient lying on the floor was blue with agonal breathing and unresponsive. CPR had been initiated, and medical and security staff piled into the dorm. This patient had overdosed and had to have Narcan administered. Thankfully, due to the diligence of medical and 36 security staff working as a team, this patient was transported to the ER where the patient made a full recovery.

Something I cannot stress enough and something you will notice was mentioned above, is TEAM. Teamwork goes such a long way in any profession, but especially in corrections. Correctional Healthcare does not only consist of nurses. We truly could not do what we do each and every day without the team work security members display with medical staff. To be a team, you obviously need more than one member and each of the following members are crucial to this team. We have Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Psychiatric Mental Health, Nurse Practitioners, Family Nurse Practitioners, Medical Doctors, Dentists, Certified Medical Technicians, Certified Nursing Assistants, Administrative Assistants, Off Site Schedulers, Charge Nurses, Directors of Nursing, Health Services Administrators, and the list keeps going. My point, patients behind bars receive well rounded nursing, medical, and psychiatric care.

One perk of my current role as the Health Services Administrator, is the ability to recruit within the community. One of my most frequently asked questions is, “Do you feel safe working with these patients?” My answer, “Absolutely”. To be quite honest, I feel safer than going to Wal-Mart on a weeknight past nine pm. Inmates are humans, and everyone in this world has the ability to communicate with others in some form or fashion. My patients know that we are there to help them, not punish them, which is not our role within corrections. It is as simple as have respect for them and they will have respect for you. By now I would think there are tons of thoughts running through your head. Are you interested yet? Considering a career change?

I hope so! Maybe this will interest you. Did you know that some correctional facilities have on site dialysis, physical therapy, IV therapy, chemo, dementia units, and even end of life care? What I want you to take away from this is Correctional Healthcare is well rounded and improves every day. Where else can a patient see a nurse, an APRN, and a Psychiatrist all in under one hour? Nowhere! I leave you with this. Before this journey started, I was scared, nervous, and really thought we only placed Band-Aids on people, or that we had the hours of a school nurse. Honestly, I was glad I was wrong because I would have been bored. The depth of knowledge I have gained through this journey so far excites me each day. Not only do I learn new things but my patients are also learning from the Correctional Nurses educating them. If you are interested or have ever pondered the thought of Correctional Nursing, make that jump. I am proof that the sky is the limit. You too can bring light to a patient’s medical care behind bars. Again, don’t be scared, these patients need you!

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