Of all the challenges the Okanagan Correctional Centre faced in its first year of operations, health care has been the most prevalent both in court and for a B.C. inmate advocacy group.
Even outside of jail, health care in Canada isn’t perfect. An individual with a broken bone might wait hours in the emergency department at the hospital to finally be seen. That is particularly true in rural areas where attracting doctors has been a challenge for most small communities in B.C.
But in the Okanagan’s new jail, that broken bone might wait days — or weeks — to be seen and mended, numerous individuals have reported.
On Nov. 6 last year, Scott Klemola joined a chorus of inmates filing lawsuits against the jail, also taking aim at Chiron Health Services, the now-defunct company that provided health care for B.C. Corrections until the end of September. In his previously unreported notice of claim, Klemola said his finger was broken during an altercation with a correctional officer.
Klemola is one of at least seven inmates who filed lawsuits against the B.C. government for issues at OCC, four of which make some mention of lacking health care.
At least two inmates not named in lawsuits have also reached out to the Western News, reporting injuries that went unseen by health care officials at the jail for weeks.
That long wait for care can be particularly problematic when an allegation of excessive force from a correctional officer is involved, according to Prisoners’ Legal Services advocate Shelly Bazuik, who said in an email inmates are sometimes obstructed in the complaint process.
“Frequently, I advise clients to have the injuries documented immediately by health care, and it takes days before a client is allowed to attend,” Bazuik said.
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Of the 84 complaints PLS received about OCC last year, 56 — exactly two-thirds — were in the medical category.
That’s a rate of a little more than 23 per 100 inmates, with the next highest rate coming from the Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre at just under 20 per 100 inmates.
At the Investigations and Standards Office, the difference is starker. From January to September, OCC had 10 medical-related complaints that were not deemed unsubstantiated, according to a document obtained through a freedom of information request. No other jail had more than four complaints.
The per-inmate rate of those complaints, 4.7 per 100 inmates, is more than double the next highest, Ford Mountain Correctional, at 2.2 complaints per 100, and more than five times the rate of any other jail after that.
Part of the issue in providing health care at OCC, according to Bazuik, appears to be a high turnover rate of medical staff at the jail.
And when patients are seen, Bazuik said patients are often rushed through — something that may sound familiar to those seeking health care outside a jail. And many of the health care visits are only available over video chat.
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“Many clients who have been discontinued from their medications, have had it happen over a video conference with a doctor, which seems especially egregious to them since the doctor could not even perform any kind of examination,” Bazuik said.
In his lawsuit, Klemola also claimed his forms requesting medications appeared at the time to have had “nothing done about them.”
One inmate who spoke for this series, referred to as C.C., said he also had difficulties getting access to the only medication he felt worked for his migraines. And those migraines at times left him bedridden for days or weeks.
While he got migraines in the past, C.C. said the sometimes debilitating headache really reared its head while in jail. Botox injections had worked in the past to relieve the pain, but that wasn’t available in jail due to its prohibitive cost, and the only medication that appeared to work was an opiate nasal spray.
C.C. did get new prescriptions signed for that nasal spray, but he said it would sometimes take weeks to arrive. And when it was discontinued in Canada, C.C. said the reasons he was given for not getting the nasal spray were elusive for four or five months, with no medications for his migraines in the meantime.
Since February, C.C. said he did get another treatment for the migraines, similar to botox injections, and said for the few days since he had received it the treatment appeared to be working.
That wasn’t an issue he faced at OCC alone — prior to being transferred to the jail from Vancouver Island, he had the same issue. But when he arrived at the Okanagan jail was when the issue hit a boiling point and he filed a lawsuit against Chiron Health Services.
Questions to B.C. Corrections about health care at the jail prior to PHSA taking over operations of corrections health care were directed to the PHSA. PHSA previously deferred questions about medical care at the jail prior to its taking over corrections health care operations to B.C. Corrections.
Note: This article originally stated that the jail had gone through a couple of dentists. Upon clarification, the Western News could not substantiate that claim.