Lynnwood may hire nurses for city jail

LYNNWOOD — The Lynnwood Police Department is asking the city council to approve a plan to hire nurses in the city jail.

The request comes not long after Sheriff Ty Trenary asked the Snohomish County Council for additional medical staffing in the county jail.

Lynnwood police have made budget requests for nursing staff for at least the past four years, said Cmdr. Jim Nelson, who oversees the city jail. For now, there is no medical staffing at the Lynnwood jail, which houses an average of 40 inmates at a time.

Nelson and Police Chief Steve Jensen wrote a memo on jail medical staffing for Monday’s city council packet.

“This is a piece of modern-day corrections in almost any sized facility,” Nelson said.

The proposal suggests adding registered nurse staffing for 36 hours a week and for an advanced registered nurse practitioner who would work six hours a week. The nurses likely would be hired through a contract agency, not as city employees.

The nurses would help screen inmates for medical concerns, respond to requests for medical attention and manage medication distribution, Nelson said. Under the current proposal, the nurses’ time would cost about $80,000 for the second half of 2014.

People who are sentenced to more than a year behind bars after a criminal conviction are sent to state prisons. In Snohomish County, people who are serving less than a year for felonies or who are awaiting court hearings in those cases are kept at the county jail. Inmates with misdemeanor cases can be kept at the county jail, or at city jails in Lynnwood and Marysville.

The county jail drew public scrutiny after a series of inmates deaths in recent years. Trenary has been working to improve conditions, particularly the recommendations made in two federal reviews. Those efforts have included limiting bookings for nonviolent misdemeanor offenders. Both the county and city jails have struggled to house inmates with serious medical issues or mental health problems.

Since the county jail began restricting bookings, both Lynnwood and Marysville signed contracts with another facility in south King County. The Lynnwood Jail does not have room to consider creating a medical ward, Nelson said.

At this point, the Marysville Detention Center does not have plans to add medical staffing, police Cmdr. Wendy Wade said.

For the county, at least two of the inmate deaths have led to millions of dollars in legal claims, alleging that inmates were denied basic medical care. One of those inmates, 22-year-old Michael Saffioti, had been transferred to the county jail after turning himself in to the Lynnwood Jail in a misdemeanor marijuana possession case.

Inmates don’t arrive at jails with medical concerns typical of the general population. Many are suffering from withdrawal symptoms related to drug and alcohol abuse — a condition that can be fatal under some circumstances.

Many medical concerns require certain kinds of housing and supervison in a corrections environment, Nelson said.

“Really what we want to do is make sure we’re providing the proper level of care and meeting best practices in the city of Lynnwood in our jail,” he said.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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