W. Ind. prison inmates provide end-of-life care

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Inmates at a western Indiana prison are trained to give end-of-life care for their cellmates through a hospice program as a way to help deal with an aging prison population.

The program at the Wabash Valley Correctional Institute in Carlisle, 35 miles south of Terre Haute, was the idea of a prisoner who had watched his friend die of lung cancer in 2009 without a single outside visitor. Inmate volunteers have cared for 50 convicts in their final days over the past three years, The Indianapolis Star reports (http://indy.st/15Jv25p).

“They forge some pretty close relationships with their patients,” Marla Gadberry, health services coordinator at Wabash Valley. “And when the patient passes on, there can be a quite a bit of grief.”

Volunteers receive 40 hours when they sign up for the program and an hour a month of on-the-job training. An aging inmate population is a nationwide problem. A 2012 American Civil Liberties Union report estimates about 246,000 of the nation’s 3 million inmates are age 50 or older. In Indiana, 13.5 percent of state and federal inmates are older than 50, according to the report.

“The population behind bars mirrors that in society, so our aging population is growing,” Pat Nolan, a spokesman for Corizon, a Tennessee-based company that has a $100 million a year contract with Indiana Department of Correction to runs its health services, said in a prepared statement. “We focus on the overall health needs of each patient, whatever their age, while they are in our care.”

He said Corizon does not keep track of the difference in costs among different age groups in Indiana’s prisons. The ACLU study and another by the National Institute of Corrections says it costs between two and three times as much to care for a prisoner over age 50 than it does other prisoners.

Some people are trying to persuade states to release the sickest of prisoners because it’s not just compassionate, but it would save taxpayer money. Twenty-seven states allow such early releases. In Indiana, the governor must approve early compassionate releases, but few are granted.

The Department of Correction in Indiana moves the oldest or sickest inmates from rural prisons to others that are closer to big hospitals or better equipped to handle them. For example, the New Castle Correctional Institute, which houses half of the state’s 10 oldest prisoners, has an assisted-living wing.

The hospice ward at Wabash Valley houses up to 10 inmates, and 12 inmates are trained and screened to serve as their “companions,” Gadberry said. Most inmates find the job fulfilling, and there is a waiting list to get a job, she said.

Bryon Bradley, 43, who shot his wife, Nancy Bradley, 39, in January 2009 in front of her 16-year-old son, is one of those providing care. Bradley says guilt and redemption is what motivated him to become a caregiver.

“I struggle with my past every day,” Bradley said. “I can’t forgive myself for the things I’ve done.”

Bradley handles catheter bags, old bandages, discarded needles and assists the nurses any way he can. He said he gets satisfaction out of being kind to others, saying at the end of his life “that might count for something.”

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com

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