Regional jail struggles with drug, alcohol abusers

FRONT ROYAL – Drug and alcohol abusers keep pushing the limits of the regional jail in Warren County.

The Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail Authority Board’s Finance and Personnel Committee on Monday approved a request from facility officials for the hiring of a staff member who can help give medications to inmates undergoing withdrawal from drugs and alcohol. The hire would be made to bolster the work of a medical technician already on staff who helps with the medication process Monday through Friday so nurses can focus on their tasks.

Superintendent Russ Gilkison and Director of Nursing Penny Holt told board members that the jail continues to see inmates experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

“We’ve been experiencing an extreme volume of people going (through) withdrawal from alcohol, heroin and meth and it takes a tremendous amount of time to follow the withdrawal protocol to keep them where they should be, to keep them healthy and everything in intake,” Gilkison said. “With that being said, in the evening, we’re kind of struggling trying to get medication passed down with help we have on duty and still maintain the proper protocol that’s been set by the physician.”

The jail intends to hire another part-time medication aide who would fill a gap in the evenings – approximately four hours, seven days a week. The jail’s licensed practical nurse then can focus on monitoring the inmates undergoing the withdrawal protocols.

Mary T. Price, county administrator for Shenandoah County, asked Holt and Gilkison if they needed to fill the position now or later.

“We’re desperate,” Holt told the committee.

“We need it right away,” Gilkison said.

“We’re averaging about 3.5 patients on withdrawal protocol a day, and that’s every hour they have to have vital signs (checked) and any medications,” Holt explained.

A medication aide could earn $10-$12 per hour or roughly $320 per week, Gilkison said. Doug Stanley, county administrator for Warren County, recommended that the committee authorize staff to move forward with the hiring process.

Gilkison reported earlier in the meeting that the jail has 30 officer vacancies including eight positions the authority chose to not fill to save money. However, the jail continues to see an increase in the number of applications it receives. The jail recently hired eight officers and is conducting background checks on three other potential employees, Gilkison reported.

Shenandoah University invited the superintendent to attend a networking reception for students majoring in criminal justice, political science, sociology and history. The reception allows employers to share their knowledge and experience with students, Gilkison said. The jail has had success with hiring juniors and seniors from Shenandoah University’s criminal justice program, Gilkison said.