Alcohol Withdrawal: Keeping Tabs

AlkoholsuchtWithdrawing from alcohol may be a common experience behind bars but it can never be taken lightly. Withdrawing patients need ongoing monitoring until they are through the risky period – at least the first three to five days. So, once you have screened for alcohol withdrawal and set a treatment plan in motion, you need to regularly check-in with withdrawing inmates to assess the progression of symptoms.

Know the Score

Both the Federal Bureau of Prisons Clinical Practice Guideline for Detoxification of Chemically Dependent Inmates and the NCCHC Alcohol Detoxification Guideline recommend the use of the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment of Alcohol Scale, Revised (CIWA-Ar) for ongoing symptom monitoring and management during alcohol withdrawal (A copy of the CIWA-Ar can be found in the FBOP Guidelines).

This quick-to-use tool has been validated in many settings and assesses vital signs and withdrawal symptoms in 10 categories:

  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Paroxysmal Sweats
  • Orientation and Clouding of Sensorium
  • Tactile Disturbances
  • Auditory Disturbances
  • Visual Disturbances
  • Headache

A score is calculated by summing the scale number for each of the 10 categories. The highest obtainable score is 67 and most protocols consider a score greater than 15 to need increased attention and medical treatment. For example, the NCCHC Alcohol Detoxification Guidelines recommends this categorization of patients based on a CIWA-Ar Score:

  • Low Risk: Asymptomatic or minimal symptoms (CIWA-Ar score less than 10)
  • Moderate Risk: A history of significant alcohol withdrawal syndrome and history of medical and psychiatric conditions (CIWA-Ar 10-15)
  • High Risk: History of severe alcohol withdrawal syndrome including seizures, delirum tremens, and suicidal ideations (CISA-Ar greater than 15)

Using the Data

Using risk categories can determine the level of attention given to withdrawing patients. For example, low risk patients may be evaluated every 8 hours while moderate and high risk patients may need hourly assessments and intervention until symptoms subside.

Regularly assessing withdrawing patients along a continuum of these ten symptoms provides objective data that can be used to guide treatment with benzodiazepines. The FBOP guidelines establish a treatment protocol based on the CIWA-Ar score:

CIWA Treatment

The Assessment Challenge of CIWA-Ar

Although the CIWA-Ar rating system is practical and can be completed in a few minutes, it requires practice and consistency among raters. Let’s take the scoring for agitation as an example. Here are the directions on the Scoring Tool:

Rate on a Scale of 0-7

  • 0 = No Activity
  • 1 = Somewhat Normal Activity
  • 4 = Moderately fidgety and restless
  • 7 = Constantly paces or thrashes about

The directions indicate that you can rate this category anywhere from 0-7 and provides low, middle, and high score examples. One nurse may determine that the patient is slightly more than moderately fidgety and restless; rating the patient as a 5. The next shift nurse may see the same restlessness as slightly under moderate and rate the patient a 4. In reality, the patient may be escalating in agitation and is really on the way to a 7. With a spread of scores in both the FBOP and NCCHC guidelines of less than 10 to over 15 encompassing risk ranges, a couple points difference in nurse evaluations can mean missing increased withdrawal symptoms or overmedicating receding symptoms.

Meeting the Challenge

In the high-stakes process of managing alcohol withdrawal, assessment variability using the CIWA-Ar tool must be minimized. This can be accomplished in several ways:

  • Orient every nurse specifically to the tool including the use of case presentations to be sure the directions can be correctly applied.
  • Use actual withdrawal situations to determine inter-rater reliability of the use of the tool. Have more than one nurse independently score a withdrawing patient and then have them compare their findings.
  • Consider only using the defined scores on the tool. For example, in the agitation category the only scores possible would be 0,1,4,7. This could eliminate some of the variability among raters.
  • Consider instructing assessors to err on the side of higher scores as the greater risk is in not treating withdrawal and closer monitoring is a safer outcome.

Successful alcohol withdrawal in the criminal justice system requires a thoughtful coordinated effort involving many team members. Ongoing monitoring of withdrawing patients is a major part of this effort. How are you monitoring your withdrawing patients? If you use the CIWA-Ar Tool, how do you confirm proper use? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

To read more about alcohol and drug withdrawal in the correctional setting see Chapter 5 in the Essentials of Correctional Nursing. The text can be ordered directly from the publisher and if you use Promo Code AF1402 the price is discounted by $15 off and shipping is free.

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Alcohol Withdrawal: What’s the Plan?

What is your plan ?Alcohol withdrawal is a fact of life in our patient population. You are likely screening for it on intake and hopefully using a standard evaluation tool like those described in a prior post. Once you see an incoming patient is at risk for withdrawal, what is your plan?

Location, Location, Location

Withdrawing patients need to be located where they will not get lost in the system. Some facilities have the capacity to keep potentially withdrawing patients in an Infirmary or Special Needs Unit where they are directly monitored. Other facilities only place symptomatic patients in the infirmary and keep potentially withdrawing patients in a specific housing unit. If they develop symptoms they are transferred to a higher level of observation or treatment. The key principle is to have a designated place for potentially withdrawing inmates where officers and other staff are aware of what signs and symptoms indicate alcohol withdrawal.

Get the Timing Down

If you know when your patient last had a drink or can estimate it based on entry into the facility, you can have some idea of when withdrawal symptoms will peak. Of course, timing is individualized based on many factors such as the patient’s liver health and long-term nature of the alcoholism. However, generally, withdrawal from alcohol progresses to completion over 5 days with the greatest degree of symptoms in the first 24-36 hours. Without intervention, though, withdrawal can lead to delirium tremens at about 3-5 days from the last drink. This condition is serious and can lead to hallucinations, electrolyte imbalances, unconsciousness, and death. Even ‘frequent-flyer’ alcoholics with a known history of uncomplicated withdrawals in your facility should be watched closely and treated for withdrawal. A phenomena called ‘alcohol withdrawal kindling’  can emerge where progressive withdrawal episodes increase in neurotoxic intensity. This means your ‘regular’ withdrawing patient may not progress as mildly this time around.

Maintain the Protocol

Alcohol withdrawal is both a common and risky medical condition for the inmate-patient population. Therefore, it is important to have a standard protocol for treatment. A standard protocol establishes consistent and appropriate practices for all staff members and provides a safeguard in those situations where practitioners may be unfamiliar with the standard of care. The Federal Bureau of Prisons Clinical Practice Guideline for Detoxification of Chemically Dependent Inmates is a good place to start in determining necessary elements of a plan of care. Here are some important management principles that should be a part of any correctional alcohol withdrawal protocol:

When to Seek Provider Orders: If a patient is deemed a medium or high risk of alcohol withdrawal at intake, most protocols stipulate a provider evaluation and prescriptive therapy. Low risk patients may be put on a monitoring protocol and advanced to provider oversight if symptoms emerge. Many of the protocol treatments described in this post require a provider order but can be part of a protocol list to speed treatment ordering and avoid omissions.

Patient Evaluation: Withdrawal protocols should spell out how often patient evaluations should take place, with increasing evaluation frequency if severity progresses. Low risk patients, for example, may require three-times-a-day evaluation while high risk patients may require every two hour evaluations for a specific time period.

Benzodiazepine Therapy: A cornerstone of alcohol withdrawal management is the use of benzodiazepines to reduce the excitability of the nervous system that has been shocked by the loss of alcohol. This tranquilizing effect can relieve withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, muscle spasms, involuntary movement disorders, anxiety, and convulsions. While some correctional providers recommend long-acting options, such as Valium, as they have the ability to self-taper over time, the FBOP guidelines recommends Ativan, a shorter-acting option. The point is to have benzodiazepine therapy as part of the protocol with specific guidelines at to timing and dose. This may end up being based on the facility medical director’s preference and comfort level. Having a consistant program for benzodiazepine therapy spelled out in a protocol eliminates variability and helps both nurses and providers maintain the program.

Vitamin Therapy: Many who are alcohol dependent are poorly nourished and frequently thiamine deficient. Thiamine replacement therapy is recommended as a part of a withdrawal protocol along with a multivitamin.

Symptom Management: Common withdrawal symptoms should be addressed on the protocol with standard treatment options. Many symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are reduced through benzodiazepine administration but other common side effects such as headache, nausea, and vomiting may need additional comfort measures such as pain relievers or anti-emetics. Having these options addressed on a protocol and then prescribed by a provider at the time of protocol initiation is efficient.

Nutrition and Hydration:Don’t forget the need for quality food and water during withdrawal. This point, in itself, may indicate a need for a special housing assignment for withdrawing inmates. Most chronic alcoholics are undernourished and can become dehydrated during withdrawal. This can lead to eleyctrolyte abnormalities and hypoglycemia. Encouraging eating and drinking is important. Some settings even have electrolyte replacement drinks available for use by patients in withdrawal. Many protocols include checking fingerstick blood glucose daily on high risk patients.

Know When to Hold ‘Em – Know When to Ship Them

Many, if not most, of our patients withdrawing from alcohol can be treated safely behind the perimeter, but some can’t. Knowing when a patient needs to be moved to a higher level of care is crucial. Generally, seizures, hallucinations, or hemodynamic instability are all indications of a need for acute care monitoring and treatment. Be sure to have indications for emergency transport spelled out in your alcohol withdrawal protocol.

What is your plan for managing alcohol withdrawal in your setting? Share your tips in the comments section of this post.

Other Alcohol Withdrawal Resources

Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal Clinical Practice Guidelines – NSW

World Health Organization Management of Alcohol Withdrawal Recommendations

To read more about alcohol and drug withdrawal in the correctional setting see Chapter 5 in the Essentials of Correctional Nursing. The text can be ordered directly from the publisher and if you use Promo Code AF1402 the price is discounted by $15 off and shipping is free.

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Alcohol Withdrawal: Do You Know the Signs?

AlkoholismusAlcohol withdrawal is the most serious of substance withdrawal situations. Do you know the signs of this condition? Most everyone working in a jail for even a short time is aware of the substantial use of alcohol by those detained for criminal activity or other law violations. Indeed, many of these law violations are a result of alcohol overuse such as DUI, traffic violations, and personal injury due to car crashes. As many as 85% of inmates are substance involved in some way. One study of data from the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program (ADAM) estimates 1.2 million arrestees were alcohol dependent in 1997.

BOLO!

Be on the lookout for alcohol withdrawal in all your jail patients. Universal screening for alcohol withdrawal is recommended by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) in their Alcohol Detoxification Guideline. They recommend that every intake screening include the following:

  • An explanation of why alcohol screening is taking place – to identify those who need treatment for withdrawal
  • Questions about the type, amount, frequency, duration of use, and withdrawal history
  • Immediate medical evaluation for a positive history of heavy and regular alcohol use.

NCCHC guidelines also recommend the use of a standard screening tool such as the Simple Screening Instrument for Substance Abuse (SSI-SA). This list of questions is indeed simple and less cumbersome than many alternatives. An advantage of this tool is that is can be used for either drugs or alcohol. The patient’s answers to 16 yes/no questions are then scored along a continuum of degree of risk for abuse.

Another highly-credible alcohol screening tool is CAGE, discussed in a prior blog post. CAGE is even shorter than the SSI-SA and is specific to alcohol intake. Two positive responses are considered a positive test and indicate further assessment is warranted.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends use of AUDIT – the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. This tool was developed and extensively evaluated in a variety of settings, making it a credible screening option.

Whatever tool you use, it is important to consistently screen every incoming patient.

Expect Under-Estimation

There are many reasons your patients may under-estimate their alcohol involvement. First of all, if alcohol use could be a contributor to the activity that resulted in detainment, your patient may not want to emphasize use. Then, trust might be lacking in the nurse-patient relationship that will limit full disclosure. Finally, people generally under-estimate poor habits while over-estimating good behaviors. For all these reasons, some seasoned jail nurses mentally double the estimated drinking reported on intake. Although that might be extreme, expecting under-estimation can help you better predict withdrawal potential.

Assume It Is Present

Alcohol withdrawal should be top-of-mind when screening those entering the criminal justice system. Besides screening tool results, NCCHC guidelines also recommend that immediate medical evaluation be sought for observable symptoms of current alcohol use such as alcohol on the breath, unsteady gait, or confusion.

Withdrawal from alcohol causes increased excitability in the nervous system leading to the following manifestations:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Tremors, tremulousness, or agitation
  • Confusion
  • Unsteadiness or lack of coordination

Any of these symptoms should indicate a deeper evaluation of alcohol withdrawal potential.

How do you screen for potential alcohol withdrawal in your setting? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

To read more about alcohol and drug withdrawal in the correctional setting see Chapter 5 in the Essentials of Correctional Nursing. The text can be ordered directly from the publisher and if you use Promo Code AF1402 the price is discounted by $15 off and shipping is free.

Photo Credit: © Jörg Lantelme – Fotolia.com

Preventing diversion of prescription drugs in prison and jail

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Last week’s post described the epidemic of prescription drug abuse in the United States and the impact on the nation’s jails and prisons. This week we return to the same subject but focus on the problem of prescription drug diversion during incarceration. There are many more medications available and appropriate to be used in treatment today than when I started in nursing 40 years ago. Just to illustrate there were an average of 13 prescriptions written in 2011 for every person in the United States. At one of the jails I am familiar with an average of 24 prescriptions per inmate are filled each month.

Most correctional facilities allow some medications to be taken by inmates on their own as directed by the provider. This is usually called a “self-carry” or “keep on person” program. Virtually all facilities also require that certain medication be administered to inmates. These medications usually have potential for misuse (narcotics) or are medication regimes that require close monitoring (TB prophylaxis). The volume of medications handled daily in correctional facilities is substantial.

Nearly 85% of incarcerated adults in the United States have a substance use disorder and four out of five crimes committed by youth involve substance abuse (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse 2010, 2004). Some misuse of prescription drugs takes place simply because access to illegal drugs is so greatly limited during incarceration. Incarceration also brings other discomforts such as insomnia, pain, anxiety and boredom. Inmates may request medication from health care staff; they may also simply take or trade for someone else’s medication in an effort to alleviate problems like these. As correctional health care professionals we all have experience with patients who feign an illness or symptom to get a prescription for a preferred medication. Prescription medication has a value in prison or jail that is greater than in the general community (Phillips 2014).

Diversion and misuse of prescription medication is as much a clinical problem as a custodial one. If patients are bullied or coerced into giving up needed medication their condition may deteriorate. The provider may prescribe higher doses or additional intervention to treat a condition that appears unimproved when instead the patient was not treated effectively in the first place. In addition inmates who take someone else’s medication are not monitored clinically and expose themselves to potential for adverse reaction or other injury.

Methods to prevent or mitigate diversion

  1. Formulary controls: Often the first reaction to counter diversion is to ban prescription of the drug in the first place. The problem with this approach is that once a particular drug is banned another becomes the drug of choice for misuse. Secondly there are appropriate clinical indications for these medications and not allowing their use is to deny medically necessary care. It is possible to designate a particular drug as a non-formulary item that requires additional rationale and review before it can be issued. An example of this is that many facilities have made bupropion a non-formulary anti-depressant and thus limited its use (Phillips 2012). It is also possible to designate a certain housing location with greater supervision and control for patients receiving drugs at high risk for diversion. For example some facilities require patients to be admitted to the infirmary in order to receive treatment with an opiate analgesic.
  2. Choice of preparation: Another action is to administer the drug in a way that limits the possibility of diversion. Choices include ordering the drug in a liquid, aerosol or injectable preparation or that the tablet be “crushed and floated” (Bicknell et.al. 2011). Challenges are that these methods are either more expensive or time consuming to administer. A policy to “crush and float” an entire class of drugs (i.e. psychotropics) is not advised since the effectiveness and safety of some medications may be altered. Nurses expose themselves to liability if they “crush and float” medications against manufacturer advice (Phillips 2012).
  3. Increased multidisciplinary communication: Communication between providers, nurses and custody staff about prescription drug abuse generally and the importance of each method used to minimize diversion will reinforce the roles of each (Phillips 2014). Both correctional officers and nurses have responsibilities to ensure that inmates take medications as prescribed. These include maintaining orderliness during medication administration, monitoring ingestion, observing individual inmates for intended and unintended effects of medication. Correctional officers should be invited to provide information about behavior that suggests coercion by others or diversion. Providers and nurses may ask correctional officers about their observations of an inmate’s behavior to help with diagnosis or clinical monitoring. Random cell searches by correctional staff and periodic review of adherence by nursing staff are very helpful in identifying inmates who are diverting medication. Recently a facility changed their procedure for medication administration to include checking an inmate’s hands as well as their mouth before leaving the medication area. This change was made after discussion with an inmate who was found trading medication. The provider asked the inmate how he managed to get the medication and he gladly demonstrated his sleight of hand. It was an educational experience for all the staff and improved the methods used to control diversion at the facility.
  4. Caring for patients: Proactive identification and preventive treatment of inmates withdrawing from use of illicit drugs is an important first step in reducing diversion. This includes programming and targeted education to build alternative coping skills and recovery (Phillips 2012).Indications that a patient may be “at risk” of diverting prescribed medication include:
  • Requesting a particular drug by name before describing symptoms
  • Objective data about the patient’s condition is inconsistent with the description of symptoms
  • Refusal or non-adherence with other drugs prescribed for the condition
  • Claiming allergies or side effects to other possible drugs without being able to provide specific detail
  • Not remembering or being able to pronounce drugs other than the preferred drug
  • Threatening or other signs of excessive distress when the requested drug is not prescribed (Phillips 2012, 2014).

The nurse should be observant for these behaviors when seeing patients in sick call, nurse clinics or during medication administration, document the findings in the inmate’s health record and inform the patient’s prescribing provider. This information is more helpful to the treating provider when it is descriptive rather than judgmental. Nurses should also discuss with patients the potential for victimization when taking medication, the adverse outcomes of prescription drug abuse as well as steps to protect the inmate. This discussion is most effective if it is specific to the patient, the drug and their behavior rather than more general information.

Medications with high diversion value in the correctional setting

Click on this link to a table Common Prescription Medications- Use and Misuse which lists the prescription medications that are commonly misused or abused by inmates. The table also lists the purpose each drug is usually prescribed for as well as the reason for its misuse. During administration or when working with patients to self-administer these drugs nurses should be hyper-vigilant for possible diversion. Please remember though that any prescription medication can be misused if there is a belief that the drug will produce some desired effect.

Conclusion:

What have you learned about diversion of prescribed medications at your correctional facility that has not been discussed here? Are there methods to prevent diversion not discussed here that should be? Please share your opinions and experience by responding in the comments section of this post.

Anthony Tamburello, MD, FAPA, Statewide Associate Director of Psychiatry,  Rutgers University Correctional Health Care in New Jersey provided much of this information in a continuing education presentation for nurses and was willing to share it for use in this post. Also correctional physicians in the United Kingdom have published Safer Prescribing in Prisons: Guidance for Clinicians a thoughtful and well organized on-line resource. For more on correctional nursing read our book, the Essentials of Correctional Nursing. Order your copy directly from the publisher. Use promotional code AF1209 for $15 off and free shipping.

Resources:

Bicknell, M., Brew, I., Cooke, C., Duncall, H., Palmer, J., Robinson, J. (2011) Safer Prescribing in Prisons: Guidance for Clinicians. Royal College of General Practitioners, Secure Environments Group. Accessed at http://www.rpharms.com/news-story-downloads/prescribinginprison.pdf.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014) Prescription Drug Overdose in the United States: Fact Sheet. Accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/overdose/facts.html.

Kirschner, N., Ginsburg, J., Sulmasy, L. S., (2014) Prescription Drug Abuse: Executive Summary of a Policy Position from the American College of Physicians. Annals of Internal Medicine 160 (3).

Laffan, S. (2013) Alcohol and Drug Withdrawal in Schoenly, L. & Knox, C.M. (ed.) Essentials of Correctional Nursing, pp. 81- 96, (New York: Springer Publishing Company LLC).

National Commission on Correctional Health Care. (Prisons and Jails 20014). Standards for Health Services. National Commission on Correctional Health Care.

Phillips, A. (2014) Prescribing in prison: complexities and considerations. Nursing Standard 28 (21): 46-50.

Phillips, D. (2012) Wellbutrin®: Misuse and abuse by incarcerated individuals. Journal of Addiction Nursing, 23: 65-69.

Tamburello, A. (n.d.) Prescription Medication Abuse. Presentation for University Correctional Health Care. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Personal correspondence dated 6/17/2014.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. (2010). Behind bars II: Substance abuse and America’s prison population. New York, NY: The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Retrieved from http://www.casacolumbia.org/addiction-research/reports/substance-abuse-prison-system-2010.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. (2010). Criminal neglect: Substance abuse, juvenile justice and the children left behind. New York, NY: The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Retrieved from http://www.casacolumbia.org/addiction-research/reports/substance-abuse-juvenile-justive-children-left-behind.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Behavioral Health Coordinating Committee, Prescription Drug Abuse Subcommittee, (2013) Addressing Prescription Drug Abuse in the United States: Current Activities and Future Opportunities. Accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/overdose/hhs_rx_abuse.html.

Photo credit: © torsius – Fotolia.com

 

Identifying Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse

piatto di farmaci e drogaOne of my first mentors in correctional health care described prisons and jails as functioning like a city or town with many of the same characteristics as the surrounding community. I still think that is a good description. So we can expect trends identified in the larger community to eventually transcend the walls of the correctional facility in some way. One of these trends is the growing problem of prescription drug misuse and abuse.

According to a 2010 survey done by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration more Americans over age 12 are taking prescription medications for non-medical purposes. These medications include pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, sedatives and psychotherapeutic drugs. More than half of those said that they obtained the drug from a friend or relative for no cost. More than half the teens surveyed in another study obtained prescription drugs for non-medical purposes from the family medicine cabinet (Kirchner et. al., 2014).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that visits to Emergency Rooms (ER) increased 114% from 2004 to 2011. The majority of this increase is due to misuse or abuse of pharmaceuticals. In 2011 half of the admissions to the ER were related to prescription drug misuse or abuse. Of these admissions, one third involved medications used to treat anxiety or insomnia and another third were opioid analgesics (2014).

Deaths by poisoning or drug overdose have been the leading cause of injury in the United States since 2008. Overdose deaths have increased five-fold since 1980 (Kirchner et. al., 2014). In 2010 among deaths related to overdose with prescription drugs 75 % involved opioid analgesics and 35 % involved benzodiazepines. The number of overdose deaths from opioid analgesics is now greater than those of deaths from heroin and cocaine combined (CDC 2014).

All of this is to say that detainees arriving at our jails and prisons are likely to have recently misused or abused prescription drugs. Thorough, routine and non-judgmental inquiry about recent drug use during reception health screening is essential to identify individuals who will need to be managed medically during withdrawal. These questions should solicit the name of the drug, the usual dose; the route used, frequency, date and time of the last dose. Other questions include previous withdrawal symptoms and whether hospitalization was necessary (Laffan 2013).

The characteristics of people who overdosed with prescription drugs include:

  • Middle age
  • Male
  • White, Native American or Alaska Native
  • Rural community
  • History of chronic pain
  • History of mental health disorder
  • History of substance abuse
  • Have multiple health care providers or inconsistent providers
  • Taking multiple prescriptions (DHHS, 2013).

These are not listed as a definitive means to diagnose prescription drug abuse but instead to point out how many of our inmates have these same characteristics and are at risk of adverse consequences from this behavior.

When inmates are identified who will need assistance with detoxification the nurse’s next step is to contact a provider. Monitoring and management of withdrawal from prescription drug abuse should be initiated by a provider according to protocols established by the facility medical director. Nurses should not be expected to use standing orders to initiate detoxification (NCCHC 2014). For more about drug withdrawal in the correctional setting read Chapter 5 in the Essentials of Correctional Nursing. Order your copy directly from the publisher. Use promotional code AF1209 for $15 off and free shipping.

Resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014) Prescription Drug Overdose in the United States: Fact Sheet. Accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/overdose/facts.html.

Kirschner, N., Ginsburg, J., Sulmasy, L. S., (2014) Prescription Drug Abuse: Executive Summary of a Policy Position from the American College of Physicians. Annals of Internal Medicine 160 (3).

Laffan, S. (2013) Alcohol and Drug Withdrawal in Schoenly, L. & Knox, C.M. (ed.) Essentials of Correctional Nursing, pp. 81- 96, (New York: Springer Publishing Company LLC).

National Commission on Correctional Health Care. (Prisons and Jails 20014). Standards for Health Services. National Commission on Correctional Health Care.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Behavioral Health Coordinating Committee, Prescription Drug Abuse Subcommittee, (2013) Addressing Prescription Drug Abuse in the United States: Current Activities and Future Opportunities. Accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/overdose/hhs_rx_abuse.html.

Photo credit: © 541albertod – Fotolia.com

Clinical Communication with Patients who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

abstract human face 3d illustrationIt is 1 o’clock Saturday morning and the police have just arrived with a middle aged man to book into jail for an assault that took place in the city an hour ago. He has abrasions on his face, neck and hands; he is observant and seems compliant with the officers’ instructions. Custody staff complete booking and he is brought to medical for intake health screening. The officer tells the nurse that the man is deaf. The nurse writes on a notepad “Can you read and write?” The detainee nods his head affirmatively. The nurse puts the intake screening form in front of the detainee and points to each question on the form. The detainee nods his head in a “no” gesture to each of the screening questions. The nurse takes vital signs, examines the abrasions, applies a bactericidal ointment and then observes the detainee while he is changing into the jail uniform. His deafness and abrasions are noted; no other problems are identified by the nurse and the detainee is given a handbook that explains how to access health care when he is released to housing.

Did this nursing encounter meet the standard of care for persons in correctional settings who are deaf or hard of hearing?

The components of receiving screening defined by the American Corrections Association (ACA) and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) are that a screening form is used to inquire about the status of each detainee’s health and that reception personnel observe the detainee’s condition for signs of illness or injury before making decisions about disposition. NCCHC also states in the discussion of the standard that “Receiving screening is conducted using a form and language fully understood by the inmate, who may not speak English or may have a physical (e.g., speech, hearing, sight) or mental disability” (2014, page 72). The nurse modified how the receiving screening data was collected when the detainee indicated that he could read and write. Literally interpreted the accreditation standards were met. But were best practices used to screen for potential emergency situations, treating illness or continuing prescribed medication?

The Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990 establishes specific requirements that apply to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing in correctional settings. These include:

  • Giving primary consideration to providing the aid or service requested by the person with the hearing disability.
  • Communication aids and services may not be denied except when a particular aid or service would result in an undue burden or a fundamental change in the nature of the law enforcement services being provided.
  • Only the head of the agency or his or her designee can make the determination that a particular aid or service would cause an undue burden or a fundamental change in the nature of the law enforcement services being provided.
  • Not charging for communication aids or services provided.
  • Providing effective, accurate, and impartial interpreters when needed.

In this case the nurse did not inquire about the type of communication aid or service the detainee preferred but instead only asked if the detainee could read and write. Relying on writing or pointing to items is effective communication for brief and relatively simple face-to-face conversations. Having the detainee fill out the health history portion of the intake screening form may be appropriate if he is literate enough in medical terminology. While many who are deaf and hard of hearing indicate the ability to read lips nurses need to be cognizant that only about 30% of what is said can be accurately interpreted (Shuler et. al., 2013). If the detainee indicates he has any medical or mental health problems, is seeing a provider in the community or is taking medication the nurse will have to use a more interactive and accurate communication method. These include:

Sign language interpreters: There are several kinds of sign language, including American Sign Language (ASL) and Signed English. When arranging for an interpreter be sure to ask what form of sign language the detainee uses.

Oral and cued speech interpreters: Some individuals have been trained in lip reading and with assistance from an interpreter can understand spoken words fairly well.

Transcription services: Many people who are deaf or hard of hearing are not trained in either sign language or speech reading. There are several types of devices that allow a person who is deaf or hard of hearing to communicate by typing. These include Computer Assisted Real-time Transcription (CART) and text telephone (TTY or TTD).

Video services: use high speed internet and wireless connections to link a camera or videophone that transmits sign language to an interpreter who conveys the message verbally to the hearing person.

Each state defines the education and training required to be considered a qualified interpreter and may also require certification. Since the ADA requires that interpreters in correctional settings be effective, accurate, and impartial special care should be taken in arranging for interpreters. Using staff who “know sign language” or family members to interpret may not meet these criteria. Further the nurse needs to document in the detainee health record what effort was made to inquire about communication preferences, arrangements made to provide assistance and if an interpreter is used document their name, certification or qualification and contact information.

The detainee in this example was scheduled to be seen by a nurse the following day to review the intake screening information and complete the history portion of the initial health assessment. Correctional staff at booking inquired about the detainee’s communication preferences and had noted in the classification system that he used American Sign Language (ASL). The nurse was aware of this and made arrangements for the presence of a qualified interpreter at the nursing encounter the next day. The ADA does not require that the services of an interpreter be immediately available  at intake for example but that arrangements are made in a reasonable amount of time when they are necessary.

Best practices summary

• Before speaking, get the person’s attention with a wave of the hand or a gentle tap on the shoulder.

• Face the person and do not turn away while speaking.

• Try to converse in a well-lit area.

• Do not cover your mouth or chew gum.

• Minimize background noise and other distractions whenever possible.

• When you are communicating orally, speak slowly and distinctly. Use gestures and facial expressions to reinforce what you are saying.

• Use visual aids when possible, such as pointing to printed information or photos.

• When using an interpreter, look at and speak directly to the deaf person, not to the interpreter.

  • Talk at your normal rate, or slightly slower if you normally speak very fast.
  • Only one person should speak at a time.
  • Use short sentences and simple words (U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights January 2006).

It is estimated that up to nine percent of the population has some degree of hearing loss, and this percentage will increase as the population ages. So as correctional nurses, we expect to come into contact with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. In your opinion was the standard of care met in the intake screening and assessment of this detainee’s health status? What are the challenges in providing nursing care for detainees who are deaf or hard of hearing? Please share your opinions and experience by responding in the comments section of this post.

For more on correctional nursing read our book, the Essentials of Correctional Nursing. Order your copy directly from the publisher. Use promotional code AF1209 for $15 off and free shipping.

References:

American Corrections Association. (2010). 2010 Standards Supplement. Alexandria, VA.: American Corrections Association.

National Commission on Correctional Health Care. (Prisons and Jails 20014). Standards for Health Services. National Commission on Correctional Health Care.

Shuler, G.K; Mistler, L.A.; Torrey, K.; Depukat, R. (2013). Bridging communication gaps with the deaf. Nursing 2013 43 (11): 24-30.

U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights. (January 2006). Communicating with People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: ADA Guide for Law Enforcement Officers. Accessed June 16, 2014 at http://www.ada.gov/lawenfcomm.htm.

U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights. (October 2003). ADA Business BRIEF: Communicating with People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing in Hospital Settings. Accessed June 16, 2014 at http://www.ada.gov/hospcombr.htm.

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Responding to Grievances: Chore or Score?

Hands with smiles and sadness patternNone of us likes to receive complaints and yet receiving and responding to grievances from inmates is a daily part of our work as correctional nurses. Health care is among the most frequently grieved areas in the operation of a correctional facility. There are many reasons for this. Inmates do not get to select their health care providers and if dissatisfied with the service have nowhere else to go. Aspects of care that an inmate may have been able to address themselves in the community are governed by institutional rules and may require assistance or supervision from health care staff. The grievance procedure is usually the only way available for inmates to raise concerns constructively.

Every correctional nurse should expect to be grieved about health care they have provided. Many nurses express negative perceptions about grievances as an allegation of wrongdoing or a waste of time or a nuisance. Here are some ways to look at grievances more positively especially since they must be dealt with as daily aspect of our practice. 1. Submitting a grievance is an attempt to identify and resolve problems verbally; a pro-social behavior which should be supported. 2. Having a concern, complaint or even disagreement about care is not a negative statement about a nurse’s integrity, motivation or competency; it may reflect lack of understanding or anxiety about a condition. 3. Responding to a grievance is an opportunity to clarify misunderstandings and can avoid future problems; it also lays a legal record for the future.

The following is an example of a grievance a nurse might receive…“I show up at Medical to take the medication. The nurse asked lots of questions. I cannot speak English so was not able to take the medication. I was sent back to housing with no medication. I need this problem solved with time it has grown.”

The first step is to be diligent in looking into the problem. There is not much detail provided in the complaint but a quick look at the medication administration record would indicate if he was missing prescribed medication. It would also be a good idea to look at the current orders to see if there are any prescribed medications not yet started and any recent progress note indicating that medication was not being given for some reason. Meeting with the inmate is often recommended and in this example would be especially valuable to find out more specifically what happened and when.

Even if the health record shows that the patient is receiving treatment as prescribed there are two things we still want to find out from the inmate: 1. What medication does the patient think they should receive and are not. 2. What problem does the patient have that has grown worse? It is very likely that the patient does not understand the treatment plan or an aspect of prescribed treatment. We may be able to clarify or explain the plan of care and alleviate the patient’s concern or if there is a new or worsening problem have the patient seen by a provider. Either of these would be positive outcomes for the patient.

Now that we have the facts as well as the inmate’s perception of the problem we can respond to the grievance. Our response is a legal document that may be reviewed by others on appeal or eventually by the legal system so it should be to the point and professional. Here are other tips to consider in writing responses to grievances:

  • Responses should be conversational and easily understood by the reader. Use simple language and avoid the use of medical terminology.
  • Regardless of what was written in the grievance, responses should be professional and polite.
  • The response is written to the writer.  The response is not to a third party such as the grievance coordinator or ombusdman; it is an explanation in writing to the patient.
  • Address each of the specific issues being grieved; do not add material that is not relevant to the patient’s complaint.
  • Offer some resolution or responsive action when possible. Let the writer know what steps were taken or what action will be taken in the future.
  • If a problem is identified that needs some kind of intervention let the inmate know the information was appreciated, e.g., “Thank you for bringing this problem to my attention…” If an apology is due include it in the response.
  • Keep the response informative and avoid abrupt or legalistic answers.
  • Respond in a timely manner. Failure to respond timely results in a cascade of grievances and may result in automatic appeal to the next level.

With these tips here is our response to the inmate in the example above: “I investigated your grievance and met with you on 5/22/2014 to discuss the problem with your medication. There was a misunderstanding between the pharmacy and nursing about your prescription. This has been corrected and as of 5/24/2014 you are getting all of the right medications. I am sorry for the delay and appreciate that you wrote to tell us about it.” Suggested criteria for evaluating the quality of grievance responses include:

1. Appropriateness – Responsive to the concern and avoids blaming the writer.

2. Informational – Provides information that thoroughly addresses each of the issues.

3. Professional – Acknowledges the importance of the writer’s concern; avoids defensive or argumentative language.

At your facility do the nurses see grievances as a burdensome chore or an opportunity to address inmate concerns? Have you developed any tips or tools that can help nurses respond to inmate grievances? Please share your opinions and experience by responding in the comments section of this post.

Two nursing colleagues, Heather Villanueva, Oregon Department of Corrections Health Services and Mary Raines, Correct Care Solutions provided information for this post. Here is an excellent policy and procedure on grievances. For more on correctional nursing read our book, the Essentials of Correctional Nursing. Order your copy directly from the publisher. Use promotional code AF1209 for $15 off and free shipping.

 

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