Lawmakers hear from Corrections officials about health care in Vermont’s prisons

Published: May. 8, 2023 at 11:53 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Lawmakers questioned Department of Corrections officials on Friday about health care in Vermont’s prisons. Many people are raising concerns about the system after the death of seven inmates at the facility in Springfield.

DOC Commissioner Nick Deml says navigating health care challenges isn’t anything new for them.

“Our incarcerated population is getting rapidly older and rapidly more sick,” he told lawmakers.

Among the stats he shared with the House Committee on Corrections:

  • There has been a 47% increase in chronic illness since 2015.
  • Requests for medical care went up 20% in 2022.
  • 354 trips to the emergency department were made in 2022, most of which were from the Springfield facility.

“Springfield in particular is designed to handle our geriatric population, so it’s the oldest population in the state,” Deml continued. “It’s also designed to handle our more complex medical needs.”

Deml said a lot of things changed during the pandemic, and they realized their current provider wasn’t able to fulfill all their needs. When they put out for a bid, only two providers applied with significantly higher price tags. Starting in July, the Tennessee-based company Wellpath will take over for three years with a $33 million contract. That’s about $10 million more than their current provider. The state used Wellpath from 2010-2015.

“Regardless of who we would’ve selected, the cost would have gone up substantially,” Deml told WCAX News. “That’s a result of the changing costs of health care than it is anything with corrections.”

Rep. Alice Emmons, D-Springfield, is chair of the House committee. She says she feels like DOC officials have been transparent with the troubles and changes.

“I think we’re going to be evolving in terms of how we provide health and medical care to folks under state custody,” she said following Friday’s committee meeting. “We’ve talked about a stronger medical unit and a stronger mental health unit.”

Deml also addressed the work of the corrections officers saying they’re doing the best they can to improve the situations of incarcerated individuals every day.

“Vermont should be very proud of its Department of Corrections,” Deml said. “It’s one of the most progressive and forward-thinking departments in the country.

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