The jailhouse doc Clinic provides inmates medical care, saves money

By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Terry Bowens is one of many who rely on the Lee County Adult Jail’s medical clinic and staff to deliver medicine to him daily while he’s incarcerated.
Bowens said he has high blood pressure and has to have his blood pressure monitored and take medication for it every day. That’s something the sheriff’s office is able to do in house, without taking him to North Mississippi Medical Center.
The medical center works with the jail to provide quality medical care to inmates and does it in a cost-effective manner.
Dr. David Brooks, a faculty member at NMMC’s Family Medicine Residency Center, is the jail’s volunteer doctor. He visits the jail about once each week and brings resident doctors so they can have the experience as training.
Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said Brooks and the resident doctors provide a service the jail would otherwise have to pay for.
Having Brooks and the residents as volunteers cuts the clinic’s cost in half, with a total clinic budget coming in at $219,000.
“This is something they didn’t have to do and if they didn’t, we would have to hire a doctor,” Johnson said.
The clinic began at the jail in 1997 under the watch of Dr. Tom Billups, who helped establish the relationship with NMMC and still volunteers at the jail.
“There are 200 people here – you’ve basically got a little city,” Billups said. “If the doctor did nothing but this, you’re looking at paying $150,000 to $200,000 a year in addition to the nurse practitioner and (Registered Nurse).”
The jail has one full-time nurse who sees the inmates daily and a nurse practitioner who sees each inmate when first brought to the jail to determine their medical history and physical condition.
“The thing is to try and provide good care, and in the long run it is cost saving,” Brooks said. “If we didn’t have this service, every time someone complained of abdominal pain, they would have to be taken to the emergency department.”
Johnson said previously, when an inmate asked for medical care, two deputies had to take that inmate to the hospital. The allure of leaving the jail for the day caused many to abuse the system and fake illnesses.
“A lot of abuse was stopped when the medical staff came here because we used to have to load them up into the car and then we’re sitting out there with the general public because there isn’t an inmate waiting room,” he said. “It’s a security measure. A lot of times they would use it as a plan, fake an injury and their family would show up at the hospital.”
Thursday afternoon, Judy Govatos, the jail’s full-time nurse, drew blood from an inmate who had been sick with a high fever all week. “We’re trying to figure out what’s wrong,” she said. “He doesn’t need to be with all the other inmates with this fever.”
She said a lot of people wouldn’t want to work in a jail clinic but she loves her job.
“I worked at Region II and absolutely loved it,” Govatos said. “I found out about this job and thought it wouldn’t be much different because I worked with people who had previously been in jail. It’s just something I can’t describe, there is something about it. I love thinking I might really help 1 out of 20.”
Govatos said it is tough to work with inmates because many times they will be faking an illness to get out of their cell for the day, but since they have started charging the inmates for medical visits and things like Tylenol, they have seen a reduction in fakers.
The inmates each have a commissary account that family and friends can put money in. If the inmate has money in his account, he can buy snacks and paper, but if he’s sick and wants to get checked out, $10 will be taken from the account. Prescriptions also can be purchased out of the inmate’s account through a program with Super D.
Johnson and Billups said many inmates receive better medical care in the jail than on the outside and take the prescriptions more regularly.
Bowens agreed. “Some of the guys here, yes, it is better than they would get outside.”
jb.clark@journalinc.com