By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL - The regional jail still needs officers and nurses, the superintendent says.
Hiring at the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail near Front Royal continues, acting Superintendent Russ Gilkison said Friday. The jail has vacancies for 21 corrections officers, two sergeants, two licensed practical nurses and a mental health counselor. The facility is having the most difficulty finding qualified nurses to fill medical staff vacancies. But Gilkison pointed out that nursing remains at a premium.
"Everybody needs nurses," Gilkison said. "Whether it's hospitals, doctors offices, I mean it's just in high demand right now for that profession. We're just another group out there needing those services as well now."
But prisons come with a stigma that medical facilities and doctors' offices don't.
"It's a jail," Gilkison said. "Until they come in here and work ... it's the fear of the unknown.
"In my experience a lot of nurses who've never worked in this field, once they get hired on and they do it, they go 'wow, this really is a pretty good job,'" Gilkison added. "It's just kind of getting the word out there that just because it's a jail doesn't mean it's doom and gloom and a really bad place to work 'cause that's just not true."
The superintendent noted that some nurses choose correctional medicine as a career path.
As to whether or not pay is a factor in finding nurses Gilkison said his facility uses the same salary scale as the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center near Winchester. Gilkison said that facility also has at times struggled to find nurses.
"It does make it hard to be competitive in that market, too," Gilkison said. "You've got hospitals and things like that probably have some larger budgets than we would to try and entice people."
But even with the vacancies the jail already has more medical staff in place than the state requires. Each correctional facility should have at least one licensed or qualified health care provider who is accessible to inmates a minimum of one time per week, Gilkison said, citing regulations.
"That's not much," Gilkison said. "Of course we're doing more than that."
The jail's physician through its contract with Mediko remains on call 24-7 to provide nursing staff with medical assistance when necessary, the superintendent explained. The jail also employs a registered nurse who serves as its medical director, and two licensed practical nurses, Gilkison said.
During the week, nurses create a list of inmates for the doctor to check out. By contract, the physician comes in once a week and, for four hours that day, checks out the inmates on that list, Gilkison said. The physician has been visiting the jail twice a week for four hours since opening to see the inmates and whittle down the list, he added.
Jail officials broadened the scope to offer part-time nurse positions in the hopes of creating a bigger pool of applicants to fill the vacancies, Gilkison said.
"We're doing whatever we can to get hours filled," Gilkison said.
Gilkison also presented his report on the vacancies at the RSW Regional Jail Authority Board meeting Thursday. He said that jail staff recently interviewed 13 applicants seeking officer positions and will undergo background checks. The number of officer vacancies actually had increased slightly since the board's meeting in late June from 18 to 21.
Staff also plans to conduct checks on the two people who applied and interviewed for the mental health counselor position. Gilkison told the board the jail staff will work with Mediko to make sure whoever is hired to provide mental-health counseling is a good fit.
After struggling to find someone to contract with the facility to provide haircuts to inmates, jail officials now are in negotiations with three vendors, Gilkison told board members. He credited jail employees who reached out to the community for attracting vendor interest.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org