On any given day, the Dallas (Texas) County Jail adds between 300 and 350 inmates to its population of about 6,000. Among those new arrivals, at least half are ill, and about one in every six has some kind of mental illness.
Providing medical care within a correctional facility poses difficult logistical problems. On a busy day, the Dallas County Jail has to send up to 10 patients to nearby Parkland Hospital for higher levels of care in Parkland’s emergency department or inpatient area. Those transfers represent a security risk and add to the cost of guarding prisoners.
Since taking over the correctional health services for the jail in 2006, Parkland Health & Hospital System has remade the facility into a recognized national model for providing efficient healthcare to the incarcerated. More recently, Parkland has been using $38 million of county money to retrofit the three bottom floors of the jail’s North Tower into medical and mental health infirmaries totaling 300 beds, an expanded pharmacy, classrooms, and administrative offices.
Sharon Phillips, RN, Chief Administrative Officer for Parkland Health & Hospital Services, says the new facility will allow Parkland to better monitor its more acutely ill inmates, perform minor surgery, and provide IV treatments without having to transport prisoners outside the jail. A new mental health floor will offer classes in anger management, personal hygiene, and health maintenance.
Phillips says that once the new facility is up and running, most of the sick or injured inmates who previously had to be sent to area medical centers will be able to be treated at the jail’s infirmary or medical/surgical unit. “One of the most common reasons we send individuals to the Parkland campus is for chest pain,” she says. “When the new infirmary opens, we will be able to keep most of those inmates at the jail.”
Architecture firm HDR, which designed the jail more than two decades ago, is handling the renovation. HDR Senior Project Manager Jeffrey Forrest says clearing, demolishing, and rebuilding the interiors of three bottom floors without disturbing the six floors above led to some surprises, such as a deeply buried underground sewer system that needed to be uprooted.
The medical facility is scheduled to open next May. Azteca + Russell + Turner is the joint venture GC. Hill International is the project manager.