A skilled nursing and assisted living facility at the Central Prison in Raleigh, N.C., is sitting vacant amid a budget standoff — despite high levels of state spending on health care for inmates over age 50, according to a report from North Carolina Health News this week.
The 46-bed, five-floor facility was converted from mental health care space at a cost of $6 million, with renovations ending on March 12. But even if North Carolina resolves a budget stalemate that has been in place since June 28, the unit will not be in use for more than 15 months after completion, the publication reported.
North Carolina spends about 45% more on health care for inmates over 50 than it does for younger ones, according to a report from the state general assembly program evaluation division, dated June 2007 and cited by North Carolina Health Care News. That report indicated that almost three out of four inmates have chronic illnesses, including cancer, stroke-related issues, diabetes, heart-related and kidney-related problems, and cirrhosis of the liver, among other health conditions.
About 6%, or 2,125, of the state’s male prison population is above age 61; while about 200 inmates above age 60 are at Central Prison, the center would also take in people with chronic health conditions.
State officials intend the new facility to cut costs by decreasing the need to move offenders to other hospitals, and by reducing the workload of transportation staff, Department of Public Safety spokesman John Bull told North Carolina Health News.
“The long-term care facility will focus on reducing developing medical issues through daily medical oversight and will be located next to Central Prison’s urgent care hospital for the more urgent needs that arise with this chronically ill offender population,” he said in an e-mail to the publication.
The offender population is a challenge for long-term care, since many facilities are not able to take in patients with criminal records. One top-rated facility in Connecticut was able to thrive taking in such patients, but that facility — 60 West in Connecticut, operated by iCare Health Network — was jointly developed with the Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services (DMHAS) and the Department of Corrections (DOC).
The state Senate appropriated funds to open the facility at the start of fiscal 2019 on July 1, but the final conference committee budget sent to North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper delayed the estimated annual appropriation of $3.5 million to run the center until July 2020.
Cooper then vetoed that budget on June 28, resulting in a stalemate that has frozen state spending continuing at the level of the previous year; funding for new projects is on hold.
Even if the budget had been passed on time, the center probably could not have been opened until fall at the latest, as leaders need 90 to 120 days after the funding to prepare the facility, hospital director Chad Lovett said.
“We were hoping to be open in June, but you have to have staff,” he told North Carolina Health News.