Utah Dept. of Health and Human Services to take over health care in state’s prison system

Dec 9, 2022, 5:07 PM

New Utah prison...

After reports of more than 20 assaults on corrections officers since the new prison opened, the Utah Department of Corrections says it is seeing a turnaround in hiring and retention of corrections officers. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Department of Corrections said Friday that health care in the state’s prison system will be controlled by the Department of Health and Human Services beginning July 1, 2023.

According to a Friday afternoon press release, this change is being made “in an effort to better align governmental services under those agencies best-equipped to oversee them.”

Gov. Spencer Cox announced it Friday while discussing his proposed budget for the 2024 fiscal year.

The release states, “The Clinical Services Bureau, a roughly 200-employee division of the Utah Department of Corrections, will transition under DHHS as its staff continue to deliver medical, dental, optical, mental health, and pharmacy services to those incarcerated in Utah’s prison system. DHHS will maintain all bureau staff positions after the transition.”

It went on to say, “Because DHHS employs a number of trained and licensed medical professionals as part of its broader organizational structure and leadership team, the Governor felt the agency should oversee this specialized function.”

“Ensuring continued high-quality clinical outcomes for patients in state custody should be important to all of us from a humanity perspective,” Cox said. “All Utahns deserve the opportunity to live safe and healthy lives, and that does not cease upon incarceration.”

UDC officials said conversations began after some nurses and leaders from DHHS helped the department resolve a recent medication crisis in the prison system — which is comprised of approximately 6,000 individuals housed at the Utah State Correctional Facility in Salt Lake City, the Central Utah Correctional Facility, and state inmates housed at county jails through contractual agreements.

“DHHS and UDC will be jointly represented on planning and implementation committees as part of the move to ensure a seamless transition. All clinical staff will remain in their positions under new leadership, and the agencies will work to ensure there is no interruption to services provided to Utahns experiencing incarceration during the coming months,” the release stated.

Tracy Gruber, executive director of DHHS, said, “We are committed to working together to make this transition smooth and seamless and doing so in a transparent way.”

“We are no strangers to bringing diverse groups together to work for the greater good. I look forward to adding this population to our continuing mission of making all Utahns and their communities safer and healthier,” she added.

UDC Executive Director Brian Nielson acknowledged the work that staff members have already put in to helping inmates.

“We are so grateful to each of these women and men for performing one of the more difficult and important jobs in state government,” he said.

Dr. Michelle Hofmann, executive medical and deputy director of DHHS, added her thoughts on how taking care of the inmates can improve the community as a whole.

“As health outcomes improve, individuals who are incarcerated will have lower risks to reoffend,” she said. “Lower risk means people who eventually transition out of institutions back to their communities can do so with more certainty about their own health and well-being.”

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Utah Dept. of Health and Human Services to take over health care in state’s prison system