Sarah Pack/MUSC

MUSC health, the clinical program of the Medical University of South Carolina has struck a first-of-its kind partnership with the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) to provide health care for incarcerated people in the Palmetto State.

“This will allow inmates to be treated in a consolidated, safe, secure environment and save taxpayer dollars,” SCDC director Bryan Stirling said in a press release. “We are grateful for this important partnership.”

The program establishes a dedicated hospital wing secured to prison standards with about 35 beds for patients inside MUSC Health Chester Medical Center, circumventing the need to send patients to different facilities across the state for emergent conditions like appendicitis or pneumonia.

“A more structured health care delivery system, based on evidence-based processes, allows for greater access to specialists, improved clinical outcomes and reduced costs to the state overall for this very complex population,” MUSC President David J. Cole said in a press release. “We look forward to building upon this new foundation with the Department of Corrections in the years to come.”

At the moment, when incarcerated people in the state need hospitalization, they are taken to one of many local facilities. At least two officers must accompany these inmates at all times, working 12-hour shifts. According to a press release, it requires 255 employees to staff hospital duty 24 hours a day, year-round, and the newly renovated facility would return about 200 employees to correctional institutions statewide.

The partnership comes in the waning days of the COVID-19 pandemic, which tasked prisons and other close-quarters correctional facilities with managing difficult-to-control viral outbreaks. As of May 2, according to SCDC, a total of 3,271 positive cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed among inmates in state facilities. In addition, 42 deaths due to COVID-19 have been reported and confirmed.

MUSC Health is planning to renovate the facility beginning this summer to ensure that the area is safe for patients and staff. These renovations include security enhancements like doors, windows, cameras and fencing.

The general timeline for the project includes three to four months for the selection of an architect and design activities and then approximately four months for renovations. The first patients are anticipated in the facility in mid-2022.