Public Workforce

Easing the Nursing Burden

A Georgia prison frees up its infirmary staff
by | February 2005

With a nursing shortage throughout the country, prisons are among the facilities competing with hospitals to attract and keep nurses. But they have one advantage over hospitals: Prisoners can be trained to make the nursing job easier.

That's what's happening at the Baldwin State Prison in Georgia, which has a 12-bed infirmary. Inmates augment the nursing staff by moving patients from beds to wheelchairs or shaving patients--tasks that typically fall on trained nurses. Inmates are not allowed to administer medicines, insert IVs or do anything that requires a nursing license.

The idea is to improve the job of nursing in the prison system. "It's difficult to recruit," says Bill Kissel, director of Health Services for Georgia's Department of Corrections. "Nurses are in the driver's seat right now."

During all their tasks, prisoners must be under the supervision of a licensed nurse. The prisoners get 12 weeks of training from registered nurses, the same training that people undergo to become certified nursing assistants. In this way, the program teaches a marketable skill to inmates, who can offer their experience to nursing homes and other health care facilities when they leave the prison system.

The first class of 10 inmates graduated in November. If the program proves successful, the corrections department will move it to other state prisons.


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