The reorganization of Correctional Health Services was designed to improve care for inmates and provide greater security for healthcare professionals, according to Dr. Homer Venters, the new Chief Medical Officer of Correctional Health Services for NYC Health + Hospitals.
“We want to leverage the resources of Health + Hospitals and its partners for our patients and we want to promote staff safety and development,” Dr. Venters says.
The reorganization began earlier this year when PAGNY joined H+H as the primary affiliate for inmates’ healthcare in the city’s correctional facilities. Dr. Venters, who previously was Assistant Commissioner for Correctional Health Services for the NYC Department of Health, was named the Chief Medical Officer for H+H to oversee clinical services and Dr. Patricia Yang was named as the Senior Vice President for CHS.
With the changes, the medical staff and the oversight staff have now been combined into one organization, integrating the 1,600 PAGNY and H+H medical professionals who work in correctional healthcare. These professionals serve nearly 10,000 inmates daily in the city’s 12 jails—nine located on Rikers Island and three borough facilities in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.
“PAGNY is a mission-driven organization and PAGNY fulfills the same function as H+H hospitals—the mission of caring for the underserved,” Dr. Venters says.
By bringing correctional healthcare under the H+H umbrella, inmates can now take advantage of H+H services more seamlessly. This includes H+H’s MetroPlus Health Plan, which provides low cost insurance; Gotham Health, a nonprofit network of ambulatory health clinics; and clinical care at H+H hospitals.
“We’re integrating the care for our patients,” Dr. Venters says. “That’s important.”
Dr. Venters is also taking steps to encourage more feedback from the medical professionals, including involving PAGNY staff in policy decisions and conducting a staff engagement survey.
One of the most important facets of that feedback is improving staff safety.
“Our staff works in a very unique setting,” Dr. Venters says. “We are committed to training our staff, keeping them safe and having them as partners in improving health services. That’s part of making healthcare better. If the staff doesn’t feel safe, we can’t provide care. It’s an issue we take very seriously.”
For example, H+H recently received funding to expand innovative mental health units in the jails. The first of these units have dramatically increased medication compliance among seriously mentally ill patients and reduced injuries, uses of force and reliance on solitary confinement. “These units have proven the concept that patient and staff safety–for health and security staff– go hand in hand,” Dr. Venters says.
Dr. Venters is a recognized authority on the health risks of incarceration and the intersection between correctional health and human rights. He has written widely, and testified before Congress, on those topics.
Dr. Venters received his medical degree from the University of Illinois and completed his residency at Montefiore Medical Center. He joined Correctional Health Services in 2008 as Deputy Medical Director, becoming Medical Director in 2010 and Assistant Commissioner in 2012. He is also a faculty member at the NYU Center for Survivors of Torture and co-chairs a federal health advisory group on medical care for detainees.