Wisconsin Prison to Build New Health Unit

PORTAGE, Wis. — The Wisconsin State Building Commission earlier this month approved $6.47 million for the construction of a new and improved health care facility at the Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI) in Portage. Construction on the upgraded Health Services Unit (HSU) will likely begin in March 2016, wrapping up in August 2017.

The existing HSU, located in the facility’s administration building, was built in 1985 to serve 450 offenders. However, there are currently 830 inmates housed at CCI. Among this total population are high proportions of chronically ill and mentally ill inmates, as well as a large number of segregated inmates who require more frequent HSU visits, according to the project’s original funding request in the 2013-2015 Capital Budget Recommendations.

Insufficient space and a poor layout in the existing HSU have contributed to a wide variety of concerns relating to the safety, staff efficiency, security and inmate health care, the request continued. The existing HSU lacks sufficient exam and treatment rooms to accommodate all health care disciplines, specifically in the dental area where more than 1,400 dental contacts are made annually.

The waiting area is currently located in front of the central control center, which has caused numerous security incidents. There is also insufficient storage for medical records, charts and archived records, and equipment is often stored in the hallways, creating another safety hazard. Additionally, staff members are often required to vacate their offices when visiting medical professionals need to provide inmate health care, and the facility does not offer enough exam rooms to keep pace with demand for appointments, which are increasing as both the general population and concentration of inmates living with chronic illnesses and mental health conditions rise.

In contrast, the new freestanding, 14,000-square-foot HSU will streamline operations while minimizing potential security threats. It will allow the state’s Department of Corrections to meet the medical, dental, therapeutic and mental health needs of CCI inmates by providing sufficient workspace for all medical disciplines. It will include a secure waiting area, examination rooms, offices, programming spaces, medical and clinical record storage areas, medication and supply rooms, a dental operatory, therapy rooms, a radiology room, lab spaces and an officer station.

Construction will also take place in the existing medical unit. When the new HSU is complete, this area will serve as a triage space for the segregation unit, containing an emergency response area, ADA-compliant toilet and shower, and a staff training area, according to the Portage Daily Register.

It is anticipated that the new HSU will require additional operating funds of approximately $88,900 annually, and an additional $21,700 will be needed for yearly repairs, maintenance and other costs. An additional request to construct an $18.5 million, 45,000-square-foot transitional step-down sanctions unit for 120 maximum-security inmates included in the 2015-2017 Capital Budget Agency Requests is yet to be approved.