When Earl K. Long Hospital closed nearly two years ago, LSU’s private partner in Baton Rouge — Our Lady of the Lake — took over patient care, but refused to take care of inmates. That meant a whole lot of scrambling for Angola Warden Burl Cain.
“We had to first get hospitals. So we go to Lane, depending on the emergency, because it’s the closest to the prison,” Cain says.
Lane Regional Medical Center is in Zachary — about an hour’s drive from the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Lane’s CEO Randall Olson says they are providing emergency care for inmates from Angola, as well as for inmates from Dixon Correctional Institution in Jackson, Louisiana. But it’s not something they brag about.
“We’re not shutting our doors to anybody,” Olson states. “We’re a community hospital. What we don’t want, though, is for our community to think that we’re a prisoner hospital, and say, ‘Well, maybe I don’t want to get my care there’.”
Olson says the hospital receives advance notice when a prisoner is being transported to Lane. And when an inmate is admitted, it’s not readily obvious to other patients or their families.”
“We put them in a private, room, of course, and then they have two officers with them at all times,” Olson explains.
He says there have not been any major problems — and he emphasizes that this is for emergency situations, only.
“We probably get at least one a week,” Olson says, regarding the frequency of inmate admissions. “We’ve had heart attacks, internal bleeding issues. I think we’ve had some fractures—broken bones, those types of things.”
For routine medical care, Warden Cain says Angola has had to expand its infirmary.
“I have about eight doctors: six full time, and two or three on contract,” Cain says, in addition to RNs and LVNs on staff.
When inmates need more extensive hospitalization, they are transferred to the LSU hospital in New Orleans. That’s created staffing problems back at Angola, as guards must stay with the prisoners at all times. The warden says he has finally been able to contract with what he calls a “babysitting service”— off-duty law enforcement officers, who will guard the prisoner until he is well enough to return to Angola.
All these changes have made inmate medical care more expensive for the prison, since Angola must now pay doctors’ salaries, “babysitters”, and hospital bills — all things that were formerly covered directly through LSU’s charity hospital system. To offset some of the costs, Cain says they’ve had to get creative.
“We share resources a lot,” Cain says of Angola and other correctional facilities, “And that helped. For instance, our pharmacy at Angola is doing the pharmacy work for Avoyelles and another prison or two.”
All in all, Warden Cain says, the changes have not been easy.
“It’s kind of like having a new wife—you gotta do a lot of getting’ used to. It’s a work in progress.”
It’s a work in progress for the taxpayers, too, as what the state now pays to Our Lady of the Lake under the privatization contract is nearly 70 percent more than it cost to run Earl K Long, according to the Legislative Auditor.