Justice and Due Process

Want to Fix Prison Healthcare? Address High Turnover Rates

In any field, experience matters. That’s why high turnover is always cause for concern.

Imagine a McDonalds. Making hamburgers is not rocket science, and yet if there are not enough staff members who understand the processes McDonalds uses, the whole system will fall apart. Constantly training new employees is a drain on resources, and if a threshold level of trained employees is not maintained, the business simply can’t function. 

Unfortunately, a legislative audit report shows that this is exactly what is happening in Utah’s prisons. Medical staff especially have seen high levels of turnover. EMTs — trained to provide emergency care — have been hired as a cheaper alternative to medical professionals with more training. In 2022, there was a 97 percent EMT turnover rate at the prison. Registered nurses saw a 57 percent turnover rate. 

Perhaps then it is no wonder that the report also details a “culture of noncompliance” in healthcare delivery. In an environment of so much turnover, too few employees are fully trained for compliance to even be possible. Supervisors cannot be with new hires constantly, and peer employees cannot model procedures they themselves do not know. 

Not surprisingly, this has contributed to inadequate provision of healthcare in the prison system. A 2021 Legislative Audit found that inappropriate or inadequate medical care was given in about 17 percent of cases.

Although there are multiple facets to the shortcomings in prison healthcare, employee turnover is certainly a contributing factor and will have to be addressed if healthcare outcomes are to improve.