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Should prisoners move into nursing homes?

March 25, 2013
by Kathleen Mears
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In Connecticut, state officials are planning to move prisoners with aging, mental health and addiction issues to a previously closed nursing home refurbished for that purpose. That state is also considering mingling former prisoners with the resident population of other homes. The reasoning is that housing prisoners in nursing homes is less costly than caring for them in a correction facility. Medicaid will pay half the cost of their nursing home care and the state will pay half.

However, citizens in the Connecticut community of Rocky Hill are upset because these individuals will be living close to where their children play, which they feel is an unsafe and unwelcome intrusion.

Other citizens think abandoned prisons should be remodeled as care centers for ill prisoners. Even prison guards feel that moving ill prisoners to nursing homes is privatizing prisoners’ care, and threatening their own union jobs. Meanwhile, nursing home owners say their employees will become union members. But I wonder if they will be as highly paid as prison guards.

In a recent article, one prison guard says he feels it is unfair that an ill prisoner can be paroled to a community nursing home even under 50% Medicaid; when his own mother will have to spend down her own funds to pay for her nursing home stay before she can qualify for Medicaid. He believes the penal system should refurbish abandoned facilities and bear the cost of caring for ill prisoners.

I understand the feelings of both sides of this situation. Research shows most prisoners follow the rules and try to improve themselves while incarcerated. There are some who are paroled when they are too old to start over in life. Their families are gone and they have no place to live. They are ineligible for Medicare and food stamps.

On the other hand, there is merit to renovating abandoned prisons as care centers for ill prisoners instead of remodeling community nursing homes to accommodate them.

As a nursing home resident, I feel that ailing prisoners and those with mental health, drug and alcohol addiction issues should be put in a suitable facility specifically for them. However, this is being done in Connecticut and the citizens are still not comfortable.

If an ill prisoner could be admitted to a conventional nursing home without requiring the other residents to be told, I do not know if we residents would know they were there. HIPAA prohibits staff from giving information about residents to fellow residents. Where I live, I know little about other residents unless they choose to tell me.

As a resident I wonder what changes will be made to my locked facility to accommodate ailing prisoners. Will they be segregated in an internal locked area? If they are not, will they share the same caregivers? Or will their caregivers have correctional training? Will ailing prisoners attend the same activities, eat in the same dining rooms and share the same common areas?

If community nursing homes need to be "beefed up" to allow ailing prisoners in, I hope that nursing homes do not become more like prisons.

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Kathleen Mears

www.ltlmagazine.com/blog/kathleen-mears

Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Ohio for 20 years. She is an incomplete...