Scholarship awarded to study the improvement of health care for elderly prisoners

Longer sentences handed down for serious crimes in Michigan and other states in recent decades mean that a greater portion of people in state and federal prisons are older adults. However, research from Wayne State University’s Department of Gerontology finds that elderly inmates with special health needs aren’t getting the care they need. The study finds that half of all people in prison have at least one chronic health condition, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease or arthritis.

Roscinda Sneed, an associate professor at Wayne State University, said without intervention these conditions will worsen as the prison population ages.

“What you’re going to see in most prison systems is that they have programming that focuses on mental health, they have programming that focuses on substance abuse, but there really isn’t a lot of deliberate attention to chronic disease,” Sneed explained.

Sneed will use those funds to study the effectiveness of an existing program called the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, which he explained is used primarily in community settings and has improved health communications, reduced emergency room visits and hospitalizations, and reduced health care spending. .

The grant from the National Institutes of Health is $600,000 over five years, and Sneed said he is applying for an additional grant to expand the program for widespread use in state prisons in Michigan and other states to maximize its effectiveness. She said she is particularly interested in how prisons adapt chronic disease management programs to reflect the unique constraints of incarceration.

“What we want to do is talk to them about their experiences implementing this program so that we can develop a plan for scaling, then a plan for how to actually implement this program at scale.” he continued. “And this is what we would like to test in a future study.”

Sneed added that incarceration is already expensive. In 2013, the Federal Bureau of Prisons spent $881 million caring for older inmates, an amount that continues to grow exponentially.

“I think prisons are under-resourced in general, so they try to do the best they can in terms of managing health issues, but there’s always an opportunity to do better,” she said.

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