Sgt. Waters; called to duty
Becoming a nursing supervisor at the Orange County jail was not her first choice 19 years ago, but one she has learned to do with dignity, respect and hard work in order to do what is best for the many inmates she has come across during her career.
“Everybody gets the same care,” she said. “They are not judged on their offense.”
Sgt. Patty Waters graduated from Lamar in 1988. Since then she has seen many inmates come and go. As the years went on, she discovered they had one thing in common, which was a lot of the cases were drug related in one way or another. She has also noted, they seem to be getting younger. But, she is unsure of that always being the case, since over time she has gotten older and they only seem so young, she added with chuckle.
During her time at the jail, she has seen changes such as administration. Laws have changed and she worked to meet the changes as they come. But, with the changes she also sees a never ending stack of paperwork.
Each inmate starts their paperwork for their file when they are booked into the jail. They list if they have health problems and if they are on any medications. It will be up to the nursing staff to verify this information. She also has to make sure each inmate gets a TB shot within seven days of their arrival. But, the inmates are not the only ones who need TB shots, so does the staff. Each TB shot is good for one year. If a inmate returns and it has been longer than one year since their last shot, then they must get another one.
The state requires, per jail standards, that Waters send in monthly reports on the shots.
Before an inmate is transferred to a different facility, including prison, they must have their medical file completed by the Orange County nursing staff.
An average stay for an inmate who has committed a misdemeanor crime may stay about three months in jail. Those with more serious crimes such as felonies, may stay up to eight months or longer.
To date, the Orange County Jail has 162 inmates with 40 of them being women. There are times when the population has grown to more than 200 inmates.
Some women represent a whole new set of issues when they are pregnant. The nursing staff must meet her needs in addition to the growing baby by giving her prenatal vitamins. During the third trimester, the new mother will be moved to the infirmary area so she can be monitored. Finally, when they believe she is in labor, she will be transferred to a local hospital for delivery. Once the baby is born, the inmate will return to the jail and the infant will be turned over to Child Protective Services or a family member.
Waters works a schedule of what is considered a regular work day of Monday through Friday while her staff of five nurses works 12 hour rotating shifts.
Although the nurses have a routine, every day is different.
“Most days are systematic,” she said. “But, others can get hectic.”
Inmates can put in a request to see the nurses on a “sick call request.” These are done early in the morning.
Doctors visit the jail once a week. The nurses treat simple problems or give prescribed medications before an inmate is sent to the emergency room. The nurses may do things such as check blood pressure, pulse, or oxygen levels. They may also check urine samples or listen to bowel sounds if an inmate has stomach issues.
For things such as lacerations, broken bones or anything serious such as a heart attack they are sent to the hospital, by ambulance or another vehicle.
About one-third of the inmate population is on prescribed medication. For some they can be to treat diabetes or hypertension.
A dentist comes about once a month to the jail. He does only emergency cases such as a simple extraction or temporary fillings.
A psychologist comes about once a week, although they may also come for emergencies.
For things that require a doctor, inmates are asked to pay $10 for a doctor’s visit, $3 for medications and a $15 co-pay for an emergency room visit. However, if they do not have any money, they are not denied treatment.
Some inmates require to be placed in the infirmary for observation. They have cells which will protect them. One of which is behind clear glass. Sometimes, the nursing staff has to watch an inmate a lot closer when they are a suicide risk.
If there were to be a widespread illness such as the flu, jail officials may segregate them in a ward to prevent them from spreading the illness any further. The infirmary ward has also been used to house inmates who use crutches or walkers.
As more and more mental illnesses are becoming more recognized, the staff sees more inmates with mental illness problems.
“Over the years, things have become more closely scrutinized,” Waters said.
The staff has to notify judges before anything can be done.
Waters knows the medical staff has to work together to make things run as smoothly as possible.
“I have a great nursing staff,” Waters said. “I have full confidence in them.”
At the end of the day, she puts the thoughts of the jail behind her by going home and trying to relax. She enjoys spending time with her family and the great outdoors.
Editor’s note; This is the first installment of this series on the Orange County Jail staff.
Sgt. Patty Waters, the nursing supervisor, stands in front of a holding cell at the Orange County Jail. This is where daily medications may be dispensed or a TB shot administered. RECORD PHOTO: Debby Schamber