Cost of Seniors’ Prison Health Care Jumps in Utah
Prison officials in Utah, faced with a prison population whose "fastest-growing segment" is senior citizens, "foresee an expensive medical burden" in caring for them, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. An estimated 121 of Utah's 5,500 state prisoners are over 60 years old. Dale Schipaanboord, clinical administrator for the state Department of Corrections, said that number "jumps out at us. As we look at our medical budget, we see this [rise in geriatric prisoners] may become a significant problem." Although the state does not tally elderly prisoners' health expenditures separately from the general population, prison medical costs have risen from $10.7 million in 1995 to $18 million this year -- a rise of more than 40%. Prison officials attribute that hike to two factors: growth in the number of prisoners and the fact that those in jail are "among the most unhealthy in the nation." Ken Kerle, managing editor of American Jails Magazine, called prisoners "the sickest of any group in the country that I can think of," adding, "Most of them have never been to a doctor's office in their lifetime." One solution that state officials think might reign in the high cost of senior prisoners' health care would be to "strategically group ... together" elderly inmates, who are currently "sprinkled in with all other age groups." Last winter, "advisers" from the state's Legislative Fiscal Analyst recommended to a legislative subcommittee that "'frail' elderly and terminally ill inmates" be housed separately from the general prison population. Schipaanboord said that within a year the state hopes to "identify a block in the [state prison] that will house primarily ... inmates with chronic medical needs, those who may be geriatric. A big number of them could be housed in one particular area that would be close to the infirmary." He said a "stand-alone" facility for elderly prisoners "is not going to happen because of the cost" (Curreri, Salt Lake Tribune, 11/20).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.