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April 2012, Volume 42 Number 4 , p 52 - 56


  • Lois Gerber MPH, BSN, RN


CORRECTIONAL HEALTH (CH) nursing takes place in prisons, jails, juvenile detention centers, and other restrictive settings. This often-overlooked component of public health nursing is also a subspecialty of forensic nursing.Like community health nursing, CH nursing focuses on the health of population groups and the general public. Direct care nurses, psychiatric nurses, and nurse practitioners fill this complex and challenging role, essential to a well-run prison healthcare system.1,2 This article describes the unique aspects and considerations of CH nursing to give you a broader understanding of this field and help you determine if you want to move into it. (See Understanding prisons and jails.)CH nurses often work with dental and mental health professionals and healthcare providers in interdisciplinary care teams. As team members, nurses participate in determining and providing a course of treatment and are responsible for triaging inmates during sick call, which is a preset time when inmates consult with a nurse or healthcare provider.2,3The National Commission on Correctional Health Care has adopted guidelines to help manage health problems that are common in incarcerated people, such as asthma, diabetes, hypertension, and dyslipidemia. These guidelines have been adapted from nationally accepted clinical guidelines, such as those from the National Institutes of Health and the American Diabetes Association, for patients in a correctional facility. Epilepsy and HIV guidelines are under review.4 The American Public Health Association standards for healthcare in correctional facilities revolve around continuity of care issues, mental health services, environmental conditions, and wellness promotion and education.5 Some facilities also use telemedicine.6In hospitals, nurses typically care for patients for only several days; in correctional facilities, a patient may be with a nurse for years. Inmates may have a high-acuity illness, and many don't adhere to treatment plans.

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