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Conference Review: NCCHC hits Nashville
By Ann Coppola, News Reporter
Published: 11/05/2007

Ncchc The National Conference on Correctional Health Care just wrapped up in Nashville, Tennessee, and this year’s fall offering truly had something for everyone. Presented by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) and the Academy of Correctional Health Professionals, the conference provided more than 100 educational sessions and a commercial exhibition with booth displays from 120 companies.

Although the official tally has not yet been recorded, NCCHC says this might be its largest fall conference to date with more than 1,800 corrections and health care professionals attending. The conference kicked off with opening speaker Sheryl Lee Ralph, an HIV/AIDS activist and one of the original actors in Broadway’s “Dreamgirls.” Ralph inspired the crowd with her powerful words, applauding correctional health care professionals for the work they do.

After the legendary diva took to the stage, the big buzz of the conference was the new accreditation standards NCCHC will be releasing in the spring of 2008. Several sessions were offered on the NCCHC Standards for Health Services and what changes to expect in the jails, prisons, and mental health arenas.

“Everyone was thinking, ‘oh this is going to be a nightmare,’” says conference attendee Janice Hill of the upcoming revisions. Hill, a health services monitor for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, has been in the corrections health care field for 29 years and has been to just about every NCCHC conference.

“It was so good that NCCHC taught us about the standards so far in advance so people can start thinking about it,” Hill says, “especially for people rewriting their policies and trying to make procedural changes. Most people really enjoy keeping operations in alignment with national standards and meeting those benchmarks.”

“I was really interested in the new standards training,” agrees attendee Jayne Russell. Russell, a program manager for San Quentin State Prison and the California Prison Health Care Receivership Corp. was impressed by the new direction she sees the standards taking.

“The new standards will look at enhanced clinical outcomes rather than just process and service delivery,” Russell says. “So for example, they’ll look at how prisons and jails treat diabetes, hepatitis C, even pain management. What they’re realizing is that the jails and the prisons have to be current with national trends, national findings, and the clinical guidelines that support these treatments.”

In addition to being kept in the loop on the new standards, attendees got up close and personal with presenters through roundtable Q&A sessions, a new conference feature.

“One of the things that stood out for me was the roundtable,” says attendee Margaret Collatt, a training and development specialist who designs health care programs for the Oregon Department of Corrections . “If you had lots of questions after the presenter was done with their talk, you could go sit with them at a roundtable dialogue so you didn’t feel like you had to stand up in front 200 people to ask a question.”

Collatt attended the Q&A for a presentation on inmate lawsuits, where organizers had to arrange three huge tables to seat everyone with questions. Overall, the legal sessions were quite a popular draw.

“I think NCCHC should continue their focus on dealing with legal issues that are relevant to the staff nurse right up to the person who’s responsible for running the jail,” Hill says. Working at one of Florida’s “megajails” with 3700 inmates, Hill knows firsthand how tense efforts to administer care can become.

“It’s nice to have a way to integrate legal knowledge into your work,” Hill explains, “so when someone is working in a facility and does something maybe without thinking it through, they can appreciate the ramifications. They always say that you don’t think about it until you get your first subpoena. Well, we’ve got to be thinking about it ahead of time.”

The Q&As weren’t the only added touch conference-goers appreciated. To provide a navigational tool for attendees, all of the sessions were labeled according to skill level: basic, intermediate, and advanced. This year, NCCHC decided to increase the number of intermediate and advanced level presentations for seasoned professionals. In another nod to the more experienced practitioners, NCCHC brought back its Leadership Series for a second year, where leaders in the field presented on topics for managers, like how to cut costs without sacrificing quality of care.

“We’ve found through reading our evaluations that maybe 40 percent of our attendees have been in the field for ten years or more,” NCCHC publications editor Jaime Shimkus explains. “Some of the sessions were more fundamental last year, and those people were not getting as much as they could out of it. This year we tried to ramp it up to a higher level with a more in depth educational component. We crafted the Leadership Series for those that are already leaders or those emerging leaders to discuss topics that will foster professionalism in the field.”

Attendees could pick and choose which topics they felt prepared for a high level discussion and which ones they wanted more of a refresher on. No matter what your “skill level” though, it seems like everyone could find a topic to learn more about.

“I went to a presentation on the sexual re-traumatization of juveniles,” Russell says, “and I learned that when you’re dealing with kids that are substance abusers, who suffer depression or post-traumatic stress disorder from abuse, the trauma keeps repeating itself. In other words, they are at much higher risk to gravitate towards those that will abuse them again.”

“We learn from each other after the sessions too,” adds Hill. “No matter what size facility you come from, whether it has 100 or 3700 inmates like I have here, the problems don’t really change.”

With new knowledge and advice fresh in their minds, the fall attendees are already looking forward to next spring’s conference in San Antonio, Texas, May 17-20.

“At the next conference I’d like to see more of focus around staff retention and mentoring new people entering the corrections field,” Russell says. “We’re dealing with shortages across many disciplines, from pharmacists to nurses to specialty care.”

“These conferences are very important to attend, especially if you’re in health care,” Hill adds.

Whether you’ve been a corrections health care professional for 30 years or today is your first day on the job, the outstanding turnout at the fall NCCHC conference proves that there are plenty of people in the field who want to learn how to improve their work and the lives of those they work for.

Related Resources:

Learn more about the new standards

Check out recent publications from the NCCHC


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