Ottawa

Jail inmates worried about health-care staff shortages

Inmates at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre say they're not receiving timely medical care because the jail is operating with fewer than half its medical personnel.

Jail hotline inundated with calls about inadequate care and fear over potential COVID-19 outbreak

The OCDC is overseen by the Ministry of Solicitor General. Inmates say they're not receiving timely medical care because the jail is operating with fewer than half its medical personnel. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

Inmates at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) say they're not receiving timely medical care because the jail is operating with fewer than half its medical personnel, including the managers that run the services.

Kyle Bancroft, in custody during his trial, said he has a foot condition related to diabetes that got so bad during the months he waited for treatment, he could barely stand during a hearing.

"When I finally saw a real nurse, she said, 'you gotta go to the hospital,'" said Bancroft. He said for months he had been sending requests to the health-care manager to access a medical professional, only to find out that no one was actually doing the job.  

"You know all of us are sitting around with medical problems and we see what's going on with the COVID, and no one's telling us what's going on," said Bancroft.

The situation has left inmates with few options but to call in their complaints to a volunteer-run jail hotline about difficulties accessing care, waiting sometimes months to see a health-care professional.  

"These folks are really suffering," explained Souheil Benslimane, the lead co-ordinator of the Jail Accountability & Information Line.

He said inmates who are already anxious, enduring an increase in isolation and lockdowns during the pandemic, have nowhere to turn.

Souheil Benslimane is the lead co-ordinator of the volunteer-led Jail Accountability & Information Line. (Souheil Benslimane)

Union sounds alarm

The jail officers' union at OCDC is also raising the alarm, confirming the two top positions, health-care manager and assistant manager, have been vacant for six months. 

Only 13 out of 30 medical staff positions are actively working at the jail, according to Scott Forde, a jail officer and representative of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

"They are doing an absolutely unbelievable job under the circumstances," he said. "We have had a nursing crisis for ages."

Staff shortages have led to some delays in the distribution of medication for those with existing prescriptions, he explained.

As for mental health care, there is a single mental health nurse working among 10 funded spots, servicing some 600 inmates.

"Anxiety is through the roof," inmate Deepan Budlakoti told CBC.

In custody during his ongoing trial, he said he's taking medication for a diagnosis of PTSD. He said he put in a request to see a mental health nurse three months ago, and is still waiting.

'Anxiety is through the roof,' says inmate Deepan Budlakoti. (Thomas Daigle/CBC)

Candidates in place soon, ministry says

The ministry responsible for correctional services confirmed senior health-care positions remain unfilled.

"The ministry is actively recruiting for the assistant health-care manager and health-care manager positions at the facility and expect to have successful candidates in place soon," wrote a spokesperson for the solicitor general.

"Inmates have access to a variety of health-care practitioners such as nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians, dentists, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers. Each facility has a primary-care provider who is responsible for the provision of medical services to inmates during specific hours."

The ministry says a corporate nurse manager has been assigned to provide clinical leadership at the OCDC while the health care manager hiring process is finalized.

Scott Forde, a jail officer and representative of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said only 13 out of 30 medical staff positions are filled at the jail. (CBC Ottawa)

However, Forde said that the health care manager at the OCDC is acting in the role and is actually a deputy manager from the jail with no medical experience. He said there is a medically-trained manager heading COVID-19 planning but not general care.

The province has added new positions to bolster medical personnel at jails including five new nursing positions and five new mental health nursing positions at OCDC, according to the union, however almost none of the new jobs have been filled.

The union estimates, despite a three per cent boost in the last agreement, the salaries for nurses remain 10 to 15 per cent lower than their peers in hospital and long-term care, making recruitment a challenge. 

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