The nation is struggling with a shortage of health care workers even as many people incarcerated in the nation’s prisons and jails struggle to find job. A solutions to both has recently been proposed in the New England Journal of Medicine b y t raining a nd hiring formerly incarcerated people as community health care workers.
Dr. Eric Reinhart, an anthropologist at Northwestern University in Chicago, suggested in the paper that the formerly incarcerated be recruited as community health workers, according to an article in Quartz.
“More people are dying from lack of healthcare than anything else, so the fear that some pot smoker giving you your insulin or helping you walk around the block is somehow going to lead to your early demise, versus the fact that you don’t actually have care, it doesn’t make any sense,” said Salmaan Keshavjee, a professor of global health at Harvard.
Seniors who live alone often need assistance with medications, blood pressure monitoring, and an assortment of things to keep them out of nursing homes. These people are often in low-income communities that are affected by hypertension or diabetes, which are preventable diseases, asserted the story.
Public health workers are vital to a healthy society, especially when they belong to the communities they serve — an understanding of the community’s lifestyle builds trust.
These formerly incarcerated workers can be an asset to disadvantaged communities that lack health care resources. The formerly incarcerated are not medical professionals, but with the support of training they can offer effective health care, noted the article.
Nearly 23% of Americans have a criminal record and almost half of them have a family member who has been incarcerated. This impact of mass incarceration shapes communities long after people are released from prison.
Those coming out of prison often find themselves facing huge struggles, such as obtaining decent paying jobs and having access to health care, which puts them at greater risk to reoffend.
This program can be embraced on the federal and state level, to help prevent recidivism and reduce number of people in prison, reported Quartz.
“Mass incarceration, having been formerly incarcerated, having been in a family where one has been incarcerated, dramatically changes one’s social status, and changes in social status always create changes in the status of one’s health,” says Robert Fullilove, professor of clinical sociomedical sciences at Columbia University.
The Brennan Center for Justice says 40% of incarcerated people will not pose a threat if released. Their release would significantly reduce prison and jail populations, with further savings by employing them as health workers.
The program itself will face financial challenges; to invest in such a program is huge, billions of dollars just for salaries, without accounting for the necessary training and administrative costs, according to Quartz.
Reinhart’s suggestion entails a thoughtful change in the way people in criminal justice and health care think about community intervention.
“[We need to invest] directly in people to care for one another, not from outside communities, not with a kind of humanitarian social work model where I’m going to go in and help some other community,” Reinhart said.
If the spending is costly, the savings in the future will be even greater. The direct savings will come in a decreased need for hospital care and lower chronic disease complications, and as well as a reduction in costs related to recidivism.