Cermak Health Services of Cook County

Cermak Health Services of Cook County is the healthcare provider for the approximately 10,000 detainees housed daily at the Cook County Department of Corrections and the Department of Community Supervision and Intervention. Located on the near southwest side of Chicago, it is the largest single site correctional health facility in the country.

To provide more timely and efficient service and reduce the need for transportation to Cook County Hospital, a new expanded facility opened in the fall of 1998. More than three times the size of the older clinic, it was designed to provide more onsite services for non-life threatening emergencies, same-day surgery, and other procedures. The 100,000-square-foot building provides a comprehensive range of non-emergency services, including primary care, dental and mental health services, laboratory work, a pharmacy, rehabilitation care, same day surgery, and an infirmary. It also offers 13 subspecialty clinics and dialysis. The new efficiencies will result insignificant financial savings for the Bureau.

Committed to a public health model of care, the staff members at Cermak actively work to treat and prevent chronic and communicable diseases, including AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases. Most of the detainees are medically disenfranchised prior to incarceration and experience a disproportionately high rate of health problems, and substance and alcohol abuse. Health education plays a crucial role in providing detainees with knowledge about preventive health techniques and behavioral changes that can positively influence their lifestyles.

Within the demanding world of providing medical care for detainees, Cermak staff members have created innovative programming. For example, 10% of the inmate population has mental health problems and a high rate of recidivism. To manage erratic and sometimes violent behavior that leads to re-incarceration, Cermak created a model program in conjunction with Thresholds, and agency that specializes in working with the chronically mentally ill. The initiative assists offenders with a mental health history in finding housing, food, and potential vocational opportunities. Upon release, they are linked up with Bureau primary care and specialized health services. As a result, the program has shown promising signs of reducing acts of violence and re-incarceration. Year-round, the Cermak social work staff provides linkages to 375 community-based agencies for released inmates with mental health histories.

As another example of Cermak’s public health approach, the facility won a National Commission on Correctional Healthcare Association award as Program of the Year for its participation in the Health Start initiative. The goal of Health Start is to reduce infant mortality in high-risk communities by 50%. Approximately 80 pregnant women and recent mothers are housed daily in a dedicated tier at the Department of Corrections. Using a team consisting of a health educator and a social worker, Cermak provides pregnant mothers in detention with information and support to create a nurturing, disease-free environment for their children. Follow-up programs train mothers about long-term parenting skills. Cermak was the only correctional facility medical center chosen to participate in the Healthy Start initiative.

Cermak won another award for its project to reduce tuberculosis at the Correctional Facility. Because of its effective efforts, Cermak was added to the national TB Information Management System administered by the Centers for Disease Control.

Changing behaviors that lead to incarceration poses a special challenge. Working as part of the Bureau’s initiative aimed at reducing all forms of violence in Cook County, Cermak has incorporated violence prevention strategies in its daily care of detainees. From education on the tiers to counseling during primary care, efforts to alter personal patterns of violence are integrated into the overall health treatment program.

Each month hundreds of inmates return to the community. Cermak works to ensure the ongoing healthcare of former inmates and to decrease the likelihood of disease transmission within Cook County neighborhoods. By coordinating with the Ambulatory and Community Health Network to assign released detainees to neighborhood-based clinics, Cermak maximizes the potential for changing lifestyles and destructive behavior.