Jail hospital to improve intake, health facility

April 13, 2010 3:05:21 PM PDT
Cook County Jail plans to build a new hospital and intake area after being told the current one violates the inmates' Constitutional rights.

Eighteen months ago, the U.S. Justice Department cited the Cermack Health Facility at the Cook County Jail for various problems. Some parts of the hospital are considered adequate, but others are overcrowded or outdated.

Also at issue- the intake area, where new inmates get searched, finger printed, photographed and undergo physical and mental health screenings. That area is located in the basement of the Cook County Jail.

"Ninety to 100,000 people a year come through the jail and every one gets a health screening averaged out over 365 days to about 275 people a night," said Dr. Avery Hart, chief medical officer.

Three times as many inmates pass through a night compared to 1975 when the intake area was converted from a laundry room.

"That makeshift area basically a chain linked fence welded together and medical area gerrymandered cinder blocks," said Michael Puisis, chief operating officer. There was only one exam table for the dozens of new inmates who need further medical treatment during intake.

Following an investigation, the justice department told Cook County the intake area and other parts of the jail's health facilities were inadequate and violated inmates' Constitutional rights. So, the county brought in Chief Operating Officer Michael Puisis to make some big changes.

"There is a plan that just went out to build to build a brand-new structure to house people with mental health problems," said Puisis.

The new structure will be built on site that is currently a basketball court.

Authorities said more than 30 percent of inmates arrive at Cook County Jail with some major health issues and 10 percent have serious mental health conditions.

"Many haven't seen a dentist in their life and haven't seen a doctor for years. There was a survey of female years where 48% of them said jail was either their sole source of health care or the principal source of health care in their life," said Dr. Hart.

Right now, many of those inmates with mental health issues are housed in the general population. The new facility will give those inmates more appropriate conditions.

In all, there are about 9,000 inmates in at Cook County.