Oklahoma County Jail’s medical team gives KFOR new glimpse at life behind bars

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Medical staff at the Oklahoma County Detention Center are giving the public an inside look into its medical facility, one they declare is endlessly problematic.

The jail was built in 1991 with no medical facility. The medical staff explained that a small one was forced onto the facility’s top floor – the 13th floor – at the end of the decade, but retrofitting one in the jail was a bad idea. They report it lacks accessibility, efficiency and space.

Amanda Merriott is a contracted health services administrator for the facility. She and her team believe the 16 infirmary cells and two clinics aren’t enough for a current jail population of almost 1,693 inmates.

“For example, if we get a patient-on-patient altercation, that takes up both of our clinics and everybody else is left waiting for care until those two patients are cleared,” she said.

There’s also no waiting room for patients, a major issue when they have upwards of 100 appointments a day and also frequent walk-ins.

Merriott said the poor design and logistics of the jail and its subsequent medical facility cause them to see less patients each day and forces them to work overtime hours to treat the ones they can see.

“The main, main problem and obstacle is those elevators,” she explains.

Photo goes with story
A medical staff member at the Oklahoma County Detention Center.

She went on to paint the picture of how it wastes time for the medical staff to have go down the elevators to retrieve patients in one of the 28 jail pods on the 12 lower floors; a pod is a designated area for inmates. Merriott is pleading for 28 clinics in the jail, one for each pod.

“A medical room on each pod that’s available for the nurse to go to the patient instead of the patient coming to the nurse would help accessibility immensely,” she said.

Another frustration is that the entire jail staff loses access to an elevator when there’s a medical emergency, since the med team gets exclusive access to it when they’re using it. There’s only three elevators, so losing even one is a big deal.

“We do have the occasional two or three medical emergencies at the same time where everybody is left waiting on those elevators to respond to the emergencies,” Merriott said.

She also tells KFOR there’s “a huge, huge mental health need.”

She reports that at least 900 inmates are on some sort of mental health medication, yet the jail’s mental health pod can only hold up to 100 inmates. The mental health pod also wasn’t in the jail’s original design. It was retrofitted in at the end of 2019.

The jail’s communication director Mark Opgrande said problems treating their inmates with mental health issues is overwhelming.

“We’re probably the largest mental health provider in the entire state and we’re not a mental health provider, we’re a jail,” he said.

Many of the medical staff are calling for a brand new jail to be built, one that is shorter and much wider, quite different than their tall, 13-story structure where they have to wait on elevators. In this proposed model, they can just rush through doors across a single floor to quickly get to inmates in need of medical attention.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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