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Onondaga County Justice Center opens new infirmary to reduce inmate hospital visits

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News File Photo
The Onondaga County Justice Center in Syracuse.

A new, higher level of medical care is now available at the Onondaga County Justice Center. The new infirmary is located in the downtown Syracuse jail that holds prisoners awaiting trials or transfer to other facilities.

There has always been space for an infirmary in the almost 20-year-old jail, but cost considerations kept Onondaga County from staffing it. Now, the medical organization the county contracts out to can offer the advanced level of training needed for the staff that already works in the jail’s medical unit.

Esteban Gonzalez, who manages the facility, says one of the biggest advantages to this is that inmates spend less time in local hospitals.

"The average length of stay at a hospital currently is five days," Gonzalez said. "With this infirmary, we anticipate that dropping by two days. Having them return that much more quickly with only three days at the hospital, because when they come back here they will have the level of care waiting for them, where before it was not the case.”

Gonzalez says the infirmary can do many of the things that inmates used to have to go to the hospital to have done.

“Suturing, wound vac, suction, running PICC lines, I.V. lines, all those things typically," Gonzalez said. "Even stitching is among the advanced level of care up there. So all those things, you would typically have to wait around at the hospital. Now those services will be available here.”

Gonzalez says besides the better care inmates will receive, the infirmary will also decrease the number of inmates in public.

“It’s going to cut down on the length of stays at hospitals, and it’s going to cut down on the fact that inmates are even going out to hospitals in the numbers they’ve been going out in the past," Gonzalez said. "It’s going to cut down on that, which would obviously positively impact public safety. Less inmates out in the public is a heightened level of public safety."

Fewer visits to the hospital will also mean a reduction of overtime costs, which has been an issue for the Onondaga County Sheriff's Office over the past few years. Gonzalez says the infirmary ultimately saves taxpayers money because of security costs associated with transporting and guarding prisoners at local hospitals.

The move brings a new full-time nurse to the jail, as well as further education and training for the rest of the staff. The infirmary will have four levels, including admission, observation, isolation for inmates who may be contagious and medical housing.

About 600 inmates are currently housed at the Justice Center, and Gonzalez says there’s at least one trip a day to local hospitals.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.