The Okanagan Correctional Centre (top), as seen from atop McIntyre Bluffs one February evening, is one of a growing number of projects in the Osoyoos Indian Band’s Senkulmen industrial park. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

okanagan incorrectional

Remedying health care at Okanagan’s jail

PART 6.5: PHSA has gone on a hiring bender to bolster health coverage, but OCC not out of the rough yet

This is part 6.5 in our series, Okanagan Incorrectional, delving into the first 14 months of operations at B.C.’s newest jail. Click on the image to go to our Okanagan Incorrectional Dashboard for a full index of the series (also available at the bottom of this article) and more information about the jail.
This is part 6.5 in our series, Okanagan Incorrectional, delving into the first 14 months of operations at B.C.’s newest jail. It is a direct follow to part six, Ailing health care Okanagan jail’s biggest hurdle, which ran online and in the paper on April 25. Click on the image above to go to our Okanagan Incorrectional Dashboard for a full index of the series (also available at the bottom of this article) and more information about the jail.

With correctional healthcare under a new authority, efforts have been made to bolster health coverage in B.C. jails, including at the Okanagan Correctional Centre.

But while those efforts continue, a B.C. legal advocate said she is still seeing some of the same issues cropping up at OCC.

Since October, health coverage has been provided by the Provincial Health Services Authority, which took over from the privately owned Chiron Health Services. At the helm is Andrew MacFarlane, the PHSA’s executive director of correctional health services.

Related: Ailing health care biggest hurdle for Okanagan jail

MacFarlane said PHSA taking over correctional health was largely to “standardize our approach to care, enhance the quality of care within the correctional centres, and perhaps more importantly to improve the connections to care post-leaving from correctional centres.”

Now that PHSA has taken over correctional health, MacFarlane and his division of the health authority have their work cut out for them.

Of the five categories of complaints Prisoners’ Legal Services provided statistics on to the Western News, OCC had more health care-related complaints than any other jail per capita last year.

Related: Another inmate files lawsuit against Okanagan Correctional Centre

Story continues below

Health care issues at B.C. jails
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Beyond that, medical issues at OCC made up two-thirds of the complaints among those five categories at PLS, making it by far the jail’s biggest issue. And it isn’t just OCC.

On average, 62 per cent of complaints against B.C. jails among those five categories — medical, administrative segregation, human rights, excessive force and conditions of confinement — were of the medical category.

Part of the issue, according to PLS legal advocate Shelly Bazuik, appears to have been the issue of retaining medical staff.

Related: Second lawsuit this week filed against jail

“That is a pretty big challenge in rural — or in anywhere — is actually getting medical services out to those areas,” said Dr. Ray Markham with the Rural Co-ordination Centre of B.C., noting he could not speak specifically about jails.

“When you’re looking at equity of health care, it really needs to be more kind of energy put in to get people to work in those areas.”

Indeed, health care in the South Okanagan has been a challenge — just a few minutes’ drive away, the South Okanagan General Hospital had difficulties with emergency department closures last summer.

But along with keeping most or all of the medical staff on board, MacFarlane said the PHSA has been running a hiring blitz — not unlike B.C. Corrections — for medical staff at the jail.

Related: Inmate suing Okanagan Correctional over cart crash

Andrew McFarlane is heading up the Provincial Health Services Authority's correctional health division, which took over health care for B.C.'s jails in October last year.
Photo: LinkedIn
Andrew McFarlane is heading up the Provincial Health Services Authority’s correctional health division, which took over health care for B.C.’s jails in October last year.

Photo courtesy LinkedIn

“We onboarded a whole bunch of new staff just last week,” MacFarlane said in a February interview. “There’s been a lot of interest from very talented people, both from physicians and nurses, social workers. We just hired a new assistant health care manager up there. So there’s been a lot of folks that have wanted to fill those vacancies.”

In fact, of the nearly 30 full-time equivalent positions at the jail, MacFarlane noted there was just one vacancy at the time of the interview.

“We are running telehealth clinics at OCC. So service is uninterrupted, and we are getting really good feedback, and seeing this as an opportunity across the province,” he said. “The GPs (general practitioners), now, can do a full assessment through virtual health.”

Related: ‘Violated and humiliated’: inmate claims privacy breach at OCC

Prior to the interview with MacFarlane, PLS executive director Jen Metcalfe said she had sat down with B.C. Corrections, and noted there had been some apparent movement on the health-care issue. But it appears health services at OCC aren’t entirely out of the rough, just yet.

Bazuik said she is still hearing some issues about being able to see a doctor in person.

She had previously noted anxieties inmates get when they are taken off of medications or having them suddenly altered over video conference, without an in-person assessment.

As well, during one of at least two lockdowns at the Okanagan Correctional Centre this year, one inmate, referred to in this series as C.C., said he had difficulties getting his medications.

Related: Horgan shifts blame for Okanagan jail problems to Clark government


Outside the Okanagan Correctional Centre, offices line the windowed facade. Dustin Godfrey/Western News
During the 72-hour lockdown, C.C. said his medication — clonazepam, in C.C.’s case used to treat anxiety — didn’t come during evenings and his morning meds came late, and that was something he said happened throughout his unit.

“That was a CS’s (correctional supervisor) decision; that wasn’t health care,” he said.

Withdrawal symptoms from drugs like clonazepam range from the more common — headaches, stomach pain — to the less common — seizures and extreme anxiety.

“They put a … cover on my door, stick me in a cell, a guy who’s got really, really, really bad anxiety and lock me in there for three days and don’t get my anxiety medication,” he said. “I’m sliding them notes under the door, telling them I’m having a panic attack. … They’re saying this is for emergencies only. It’s a f***ing emergency to me.”

Related: Jail an ‘economic boon’ to the South Okanagan

B.C. Corrections declined to comment on the matter, deferring, instead, to PHSA.

“In a situation where inmate movements are restricted, such as during a centre lockdown, there are established policies and procedures in place to accommodate essential health care delivery during these times, including a list of priority medications that must be appropriately administered to inmates,” said Dr. Nader Sharifi, medical director of PHSA’s correctional health services in a statement.

“Priority medications are those used in the treatment of acute or serious medical conditions where a missed dose may result in significant harm to the client.”

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

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