Local News

Officials say new prison hospital will cut inmate medical costs

Posted October 19, 2011 5:19 p.m. EDT

— The newest taxpayer-funded hospital in North Carolina is one that most state residents will never visit for care.

The $155 million health complex in Central Prison replaces medical facilities built in the 1960s and 1970s. Prison officials will begin transferring inmates to the new hospital in mid-November, and demolition of the old hospital will begin a couple weeks later.

"We are limited in our old facility. We're having to take so many more folks out even to see a doctor in his office after hours," Jennie Lancaster, deputy secretary of the state Department of Correction, said Wednesday during a tour of the new hospital.

Last year, more than 4,700 inmates visited a hospital emergency room in Raleigh, and more than 1,700 were admitted to outside hospitals, officials said. Inmate medical costs topped $90 million.

Lancaster said the prison spent $11 million alone on correctional officers to go with inmates to the hospitals and guard them there.

Many of those inmates will now be cared for in the the new 315,000-square-foot health complex inside the prison. The complex adds more than 100 inpatient and mental health beds, from 230 in the old facilities to 336, and provides operating rooms, outpatient clinics, a dental clinic, a lab for tests and a pharmacy.

"The current census for mental health is bulging at the seems, and we greatly need more space," said Dr. Peter Kuhns, manager of the psychology program at Central Prison.

The new five-story mental health facility will provide everything from crisis to long-term treatment. All of the furniture in the wing is designed to be indestructible, with tables and chairs either bolted to the floor or weighted down with sand.

Prison officials began planning the new complex began in 1998, and it has been under construction for more than three years. Lancaster said the cost of using outside hospitals for inmate medical care is expected to drop by about 30 percent a year, which would mean the complex would pay for itself within 10 years.