Health Training for Correctional Officers

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Correctional officers are a vital part of the process for delivering health care to inmates. Not only do they facilitate the work flow, they also represent many eyes and ears throughout the facility to alert health staff to inmates with possible health issues. Because correctional personnel are often the first to respond to problems, they must be aware of the potential for emergencies that may arise, know the proper response to life-threatening situations and understand their part in the early detection of illness and injury.

Standard C-04 focuses on a health training program for correctional officers. The intent of the standard is to promote the training of correctional officers to recognize when the need to refer an inmate to a qualified health care professional occurs and to provide emergency care until he or she arrives.

Training can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including classroom training, roll-call in-services, electronically or any combination of these methods. Health staff may have a role in the training or it could be conducted entirely by correctional staff who are qualified to instruct on such topics. Regardless of the method for training or who is responsible, the standard requires that correctional officers who work with inmates receive health-related training at least every two years. The training program must be established or approved by the responsible health authority in cooperation with the facility administrator.

Components of a Training Program
This standard outlines required components of the training program. These are the minimum requirements and additional topics can and should be added when appropriate. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation training should be provided by an approved body such as the American Red Cross or American Heart Association or by an individual possessing a current instructor’s certificate from an approved body. Generally, courses provided by an approved body will cover another component required by the standard: recognizing the need for emergency care and intervention in life-threatening situations such as a heart attack.

It is not uncommon for inmates who take medication or who have chronic illnesses to be housed in general population, away from health staff. Therefore, it is imperative that officers are able to recognize acute manifestations of certain chronic illnesses such as asthma, seizures and diabetes as well as adverse reactions to medications. Officers must also be able to recognize and alert health staff to inmates with symptoms of intoxication and withdrawal for early intervention and treatment.

Instruction in precautions and procedures with respect to infectious and communicable diseases ensures that officers are knowledgeable in preventing the spread of these diseases to other inmates, staff and visitors. In addition to understanding the proper procedure for handling infectious wastes, officers who work in facilities that have negative air pressure rooms should know how to protect themselves and others when respiratory isolation is indicated.

Another required component of a health training program is the administration of first aid. Courses are available through the previously mentioned approved bodies and may vary in their content. A good first aid component may be tailored to include topics that are common to your facility. For example, facilities with a high number of diabetic patients may want to include first aid response for diabetic emergencies. It is a requirement of the juvenile standards that child care workers assigned to outside programs such as forestry camps or routine outdoor recreation are current not only in CPR and first-aid training, but also in the prevention of heat-related illnesses.

Inmates with mental illnesses are common in correctional facilities and officers should be educated on recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental illness and procedures for suicide prevention. It is recommended that mental health staff review the training curriculum regarding these topics and offer communication skills for managing inmates with mental disorders.

The last required component of the training program is instruction in the procedures for appropriate referral of inmates with health complaints to health staff. This topic may be taught separately or can be referenced throughout the program with the other required components.

Other Requirements
Once the health training program is in place, an outline of the course content, including the length of the course, should be kept on file.

A certificate or other evidence of attendance must be kept on-site for each employee.

Lastly, it is important to note that although it is expected that 100% of correctional staff or child care workers who work with inmates or juveniles are trained in all of these areas, compliance with the standard requires that at least 75% of the staff present on each shift in jails and prisons and 85% in juvenile facilities are current in their health-related training.

Having a well-developed health training program provides correctional officers with the knowledge to assist health staff in preventing, and responding when necessary, to adverse events within the facility.

[This article first appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of CorrectCare.]

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