At Utah’s state prison, an aging inmate population and a desire to cut down on hospital transports and costs is pushing doctors to provide more specialized, in-house treatment, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. The prison began contracting with University Health Care to provide on-site hemodialysis last month for five inmates with kidney failure. Prison officials estimate the machines will save them $75,000 a year in transportation costs, more than covering the $20,000 a year it costs to run the machines on site. The dialysis patients are among 14 mostly elderly inmates who were moved last year and into a mental health unit to get treatment for ailments ranging from paraplegia to Parkinson’s disease.
The prison houses three inmates with Parkinson’s disease, a number unheard of when prison clinical director Richard Gardner started working there 13 years ago. “We’re getting multiples of something that would be rare in the past,” he said. “It’s the graying of the prison population, just like the graying of the normal population.” Because it typically costs the prison 16 times as much to care for older inmates than younger ones, they are sapping a greater chunk of the system’s resources. The increased burden comes as Corrections Director Tom Patterson is pushing to reduce the number of hospital transports after a deadly escape attempt by an inmate during a hospital visit in June. The cost of transports nearly doubled to $120 per trip after Patterson mandated that two officers accompany inmates. Gardner is working to cut costs via a telemedicine program in which about 10 patients weekly talk to doctors at a hospital through a video monitor for initial visits and check-ups for specialties including orthopedics, dermatology, and cardiology.