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Local 5 - weareiowa.com | Des Moines Local News & Weather | Des Moines, Iowa

Iowa Department of Corrections doctor talks about efforts to keep coronavirus from spreading in state prisons

Dr. Jerry Greenfield has the latest on COVID-19 mitigation efforts in state prisons.

Local 5: We hear the numbers, you know, 200 that have recovered ... 100 that are still dealing with the virus. 

It's a lot of people in a somewhat restricted area. How serious are you all viewing this situation in terms of your ability to resolve it?

Dr. Jerry Greenfield, Health Services Administrator with the Iowa Department of Corrections: Well, I think we're dealing with it very seriously. We're dealing with it with a great deal of teamwork. We have reached out from the very beginning to Iowa Department of Public Health. At our Fort Dodge facility we are working closely with Webster County. 

I also have strong relationship with the Health Care Association of the American Correctional Association, the University of Iowa. So what we did is we went immediately to the experts to help us deal with these issues to to help us find the most up-to-date, scientific knowledge and best practices and management and care for our patients.

Local 5: Given the proximity of those behind bars and all, some state leaders basically said it was just a matter of time until the virus got into the prison system. 

Would there have been any way to prevent it? Or was it just something that was ultimately going to happen given the widespread coronavirus right now?

Dr. Greenfield: I think that's a great question, one that's asked to me probably on a daily basis. For several months our numbers were extremely low especially compared to other states. 

But as the spread is increasing, and it seemed like it had gone down and now we're seeing another spike, we knew that ... with officers coming and going and other people coming and going .. there was just no way we could ever completely keep it under institutions. 

But I think we've tried our very best to to limit that. And like other states, I know they also have really struggled with this issue of spread inside their facilities. It's just been very difficult.

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Local 5: We've heard some prisoners make the plea, you know, 'it's exploding, you got to get us out of here because coronavirus is everywhere ... behind bars', but they are behind bars. 

Has there been much of an effort at all to try and reduce the overall number of the population? To do that safely? 

Dr. Greenfield: So we started our conversations probably in late February, early March, with many people. Not only the public health people that I talked about, but also at the parole board. 

We've probably, I think, lowered our overall prison population by about 1,000 people since early spring. We have ongoing conversations with the parole board. But we do run into obstacles sometimes discharging people. Some people don't have families to go home to, some of these patient patients are chronically mentally ill and have no place to go. 

And a lot of the places that we would discharge people to have also closed down or are no longer accepting new clients. So we find ourselves in this real bind, where we're trying to mitigate this illness and decrease these numbers.

And we're trying as hard as we can with the help of many people. But unfortunately, we have run into a lot of logistic obstacles in that regard. 

But that's not going to stop us. We're not going to stop that, we just have to continue to be creative and work hard with organizations such as the parole board.

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