Most vocational and educational training programs provide their student medical assistant necessary hands on practice through teamwork in small groups in the clinical lab–venous blood draws and injections are learned on artificial “dummy” arms and then practiced under the watchful eye of their instructor on each other. Some schools might take a field trip to a local nursing home to practice taking vital signs and set up a blood pressure clinic at the mall to boost their student’s skills and confidence.
Mesa College is taking a completely different approach to practicing and solidifying clinical and health care skills previously taught in the classroom. It is the first community college in the county to partner with a prison to provide their medical assisting students hands-on training through inmates who suffer a variety of issues, including mental illness and disabilities.
Such a partnership between Mesa College and Donovan State Prison undoubtedly saves the state money and in turn, their students get 300 hours of training they need to become registered medical assistants; however, there might be a catch-22, such as unrealistic expectations of students who might not be comfortable working under such conditions, as well as risk of harm and liability concerns. 80% of the facility’s patients have chronic diseases and more than half require mental health treatment. About 10% of the inmates, about 400 men, were involved in the prison’s substance abuse treatment program, which no longer exists due to the lacking funds.
Conditions at Donovan State Prison are tough, among other concerns, the prison is hopelessly overcrowded. Currently there are more than double the number of inmates there than Donovan was built for. Although it was designed for 2,200 prisoners It currently houses more than 3,100 men with two, or more men in double and triple bunk beds per cell. The three gyms, which were originally designed for recreation, such as basketball, now house a large number of inmates.
Another gym serves as the prison’s psychological services unit to provide mental health care on a regular basis. Reports filed in March 2013 in U.S. District Court experts deemed conditions at RJ Donovan so serious that they “present an on-going serious risk of harm to patients and result in preventable morbidity and mortality”. Some medical areas were deemed “unfit for use” especially those that lacked sinks or doors. In one clinic, a nurse worked in a closet, evaluating an inmate who sat in the hall. Discipline was also a problem: The experts noted a nurse accused of “over-familiarity” with an inmate remained employed in the mailroom for two years while the case was pending.
Although throughout history prisoners have been (in-voluntary and voluntary) participants in scientific, medical and social human subject research, today’s prisoners are among of the most highly protected groups of human subjects in the United States.