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United Way of Lancaster County


Deputy warden: Prison medical complaints are mostly procedural

Lancaster County Prison. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Advocates have been pressing Lancaster County Prison to provide more detail on complaints filed by inmates about medical care.

At Thursday’s Prison Board meeting, Deputy Prison Warden Joe Schiffer attempted to satisfy their interest.

Local activists are skeptical of the County Prison’s healthcare vendor, PrimeCare, and want to know more about the issues that inmates raise in grievances. The monthly reports submitted to the Prison Board only tabulate their number and whether any were determined to be justified.

There were 46 grievances filed in February, up from 26 in January, Shiffer told the Prison Board Thursday. Many had to do with the scheduling of medical appointments: Inmates may file a grievance if they aren’t seen by a doctor right away, or if the date of an off-site medical appointment is changed for security reasons.

Typically, Shiffer said, staff have scheduled the appointment before the grievance reaches them, rendering the complaint unfounded.

Other grievances had to do with security procedures used in the facility’s Medication-Assisted Treatment program for addiction. Nine inmates generated 29 of February’s grievances, all related to MAT. They were ruled unfounded, Schiffer said, because the procedures are needed to ensure inmates actually take their medication and don’t secrete it for sale in the general population.

Grievances are reviewed by prison staff and can be appealed if the inmate disagrees with the ruling. So far in 2023, one grievance was determined to founded: An inmate was improperly charged a copay. It was refunded, Shiffer said.

Shiffer said he’ll provide similar summaries in his monthly reports going forward.

Neil Ward of the group Have a Heart told Schiffer after the meeting that he’d still like the prison to disclose information about each complaint, including a description and how it was resolved. Have a Heart is interested in seeing if there are patterns or trends in the data.

Ward had sought summary data on individual grievances in a Right-to-Know request filed on Have a Heart’s behalf in December. The request was denied based on exemptions in state Open Records law.

Schiffer told Ward the administration would consider the request, but it might not be feasible, given the amount of paperwork it would entail. The facility must also make sure it abides by federal medical privacy laws.

Correctional facility update

Meanwhile, progress on planning the county’s new correctional facility is proceeding on schedule, Warden Cheryl Steberger said.

The request for proposals for a design team has been posted, and the pre-proposal meeting for applicants, which is mandatory, is set for March 22. The deadline for proposals is April 12, and the county tentatively hopes to have the team under contract by July.

Meanwhile, the project’s website is being fleshed out, with recent additions including notes and handouts from recent meetings, a link to the RFP and more FAQs.