VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - COVID-19 is putting on a strain on people living with mental illnesses and this can be an even bigger problem for people who are locked up in jails and prisons.
The Virginia Beach Jail is taking action to better educate their employees on how to identify and spot issues surrounding mental illness, drug overdoses and withdrawals inside their facility.
MEDIKO, a company based out of Richmond recently won a contract with the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office to provide medical care to inmates in their jail.
Dr. Kaveh Ofogh is the founder and CEO of MEDIKO.
Ofogh recently provided additional training to medical staff, jail supervisors, and other deputies at the Virginia Beach Jail.
He said they are also adding additional medical staff to treat inmates.
The recent training focused on mental health issues, overdoses and withdrawal management.
Jail officials said medical staff at the facility need to be ready to handle many different kinds of scenarios from people who enter the jail.
COVID-19 has forced jails to make changes on how they operate. For example, new inmates are put into quarantine for the first 14 days of their arrival to make sure they don’t have COVID-19 and don’t spread it.
“When you quarantine people for 14 days the level of anxiety and depression increases because of the lack of interaction even with the other inmates,” said Ofogh.
He said a mental health condition could be exacerbated due to the stress of COVID-19.
He said, “jails are the urgent care centers of the correctional industry.” He said anyone with any type of medical condition could come into the facility at anytime and they must be ready to treat the person.
Jail officials said sometimes the inmates have been suffering from various problems, but have not seen medical professionals prior to their visit to the jail.
“We need to ensure that all the serious mental health issues of these inmates who come into the facility are taken care of,” said Ofogh.
Jail officials said some of those entering the jail are suffering from substance abuse issues and mental health issues.
The Jail reports that they have over 1,044 inmates and 30% have a chronic medical condition, 55% on are medication and 40% are on psychological/mental health medication
“They’re treating their illness or injury’s with drugs or alcohol,” said Rocky Holcomb, a Chief Deputy of Virginia Beach Sheriff's Office. He said they see a lot of problems with self-medicating.
The goal of the additional training is to better identify, prevent and treat inmates who are suffering withdrawals, overdoses and mental health emergencies.
“We like to be more proactive than reactive for medical, COVID related illness and mental illness,” said Ofogh.