Inside Central Prison's New $150-Million Hospital

It has state of the art equipment. A spacious emergency room. Brand new operating rooms that aren't even up and running yet. Even a mobile MRI machine. But this is one hospital you hope you never have to visit.

When you take a look from the outside at this five-story $150 million dollar facility, you quickly realize with the razor wire, small windows with bars and armed guards roving nearby, It's not for your everyday patient. This hospital is on the grounds of Central Prison in Raleigh and is exclusively for inmates.

Dave Doering is the CEO of the health care complex and took us inside. Doering says, "We're going to go head into our urgent care department which in most other facilities you might call an emergency room. This is one of our busiest sections that we have. Every inmate that comes to Central Prison checks through our urgent care department."

In the urgent care doctors can evaluate inmates and determine how to treat them. The day we were here they were looking over x-rays of an inmate who swallowed wires and screws. Doering says inmates do that as a way to get out of prison and into a community hospital. This hospital can now address situations like that, which officials hope will cut down on these incidents.

Doering says they also expect fewer complaints about chest pain. He says, "One of the most expensive things we would have normally is that an individual would simply complain of chest pain and would be packaged up and sent to the hospital. We now have the ability to do all the diagnostics in house. Most of the time, 99% of the time, they're feigning and we can send em right back to their housing unit." And Doering says that is a real money saver.

Dr. Paula Smith is the chief of health service and says, "If someone is having chest pains and it appears they're having a heart attack we will make sure they are properly monitored and should they have blockages we get them to the cardiologist, do the catheritization, stent, maybe even a bypass if that should be needed."

The medical facility also has a specialty clinic area. In this area they can perform minor types of surgery, set broken bones, and do telemedicine with ECU.

Doering says, "Obviously the more we can do in house the better it is for public safety. you don't have to worry about sending custody officers out there."

One of the busiest areas during our visit was the inpatient floor. This floor also has isolation rooms. Doering says, "We can put them in an isolation room and actually have a sign on the door that states what the issue is."

The complex also has care for cancer patients, even hospice care. It's pretty much a full service hospital. But Dr. Smith says that doesn't mean they do everything here, or at other facilities for inmates. Dr. Smith says, "We do no cosmetic type surgeries."

And no elective surgeries at all. But Dr. Smith says they do allow transplants. "We work with the transplant teams at some of the tertiary care centers. They help identify donors, donors will be responsible for any payment or care that will have to be rendered through them."

And Dr. Smith says the few transplants they've had, have been family to family. She says the bottom line about the care they provide for the inmates is, "We like to say we practice necessities and not niceties. By that I mean we provide what is necessary."

Doering says, "I always tell everybody coming here this is a prison first and health care complex second."