A stethoscope lies on top of some hospital linens.
Photo by Hush Naidoo Jade Photography on Unsplash

Our healthcare workers have been our unsung heroes throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but now Americans are finding themselves in an alarming position. There is a shortage of nursing staff. According to a recent report from The Wall Street Journal, the problem isn’t going away soon.

Based on my observations, the medical staff shortage has been especially severe at Western Missouri Correctional Center. A lack of both nurses and doctors is causing a massive backlog of health service requests (HSRs) for appointments and services. 

In my experience, one is typically seen within a few weeks of filing an HSR, but one inmate I know recently had to file several HSRs for the same issue and wasn’t seen for five months. It took another inmate I know three months.

The Missouri Department of Corrections (MODOC) is no stranger to staffing shortages. Missouri has over 20 prisons in the state, and it is not uncommon for them to experience shortages among correction officers, food service staff or medical staff. 

The question now is, with a nationwide nurse shortage, how will MODOC recruit new hires? Turnover among prison staff already tend to be high due to a variety of factors, including a difficult and sometimes dangerous work environment. Those challenges are now compounded by an incredibly competitive healthcare labor market.

Earlier this spring, Western Missouri Correctional Center brought in a handful of doctors and nurses from surrounding prisons to eliminate the backlog of HSRs. I was seen by a nurse from Jefferson City Correctional Center, which is about a three-hour drive away. 

This is a temporary solution until more medical staff can be hired. But where will they find them?

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Ray K.

Ray K. is a writer incarcerated in Missouri.