August 3, 2009
In a letter sent to Hinds County Sheriff Malcolm McMillin, the Mississippi Department of Health outlined upgrades needed at the county jail to lower infection risk and improve health screenings.
Following positive TB tests in two inmates at the jail, the Health Department in June screened some 800 inmates. So far, 41 inmates and one jail staffer have tested positive for latent TB. Six inmates were discovered to have HIV, which had gone undetected by staff.
Currently, the jail has 11 medical officers. Staff screen inmates within 14 days of incarceration, a delay that increases the chance of disease transmission. Maj. Ruth Wyatt, health services administrator at the jail, said the county plans to hire five nurses to screen inmates upon booking. Screenings consist of a medical questionnaire and general health check.
According to the Health Department's letter, "All inmates confined to the facility should be tested [monthly] for tuberculosis, HIV, and syphilis as required by law."
The jail does not perform blood tests, and McMillin said it is unlikely the county can afford to administer them to every inmate. However, the jail will soon begin TB skin-testing, which can reveal latent cases.
The Health Department is also asking the jail to install ultraviolet germicidal irradiation lights in all air handling units to reduce TB transmission, as well as to construct two new negative pressure rooms to quarantine inmates with active TB.
Paying for these upgrades could prove challenging for the county, which had to borrow roughly $1.5 million from its 911 fund to meet July payroll. "We may be able to use bond funds to address it from the [construction] side," said county Board of Supervisors President George Smith. "But we've got to find the money in operations for hiring staff."