With the rise of intravenous drug misuse including opioids, the rates of Hepatitis C in the community have increased in recent years. The incarcerated population in Maricopa County jails is especially at risk. Until recently, inmates were only getting tested for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. Beginning in 2017, all inmates who enter Maricopa County’s jail system have been offered a comprehensive screening program for Hepatitis C upon entry. The screenings, funded by a grant, not only provide testing but also give patients a chance to educate themselves about the danger of Hepatitis C infections during a follow up lab visit. Furthermore, Hepatitis C-positive patients will have ‘linkage to care’ which connects patients who have tested positive to healthcare providers, ensuring they are offered follow up care even when they return to the community.
“We know that health care can be a determinant regarding recidivism. When people receive services for their comprehensive health care needs, they have a much better chance at a healthy adjustment in the community and reduced risk for returning to jail,” said Dr. Dawn Noggle, Mental Health Director for Maricopa County Correctional Health Services.
Most of the average daily inmate population of 7,500 will be returning back to the community. Identifying patients infected with Hepatitis C and educating them about options for future evaluation and treatment provides a tremendous opportunity for Correctional Health Services to make an impact, according to Dr. Noggle.
Data has shown those entering Maricopa County’s jails have an infection rate of approximately 20 percent, indicating the need for further development of linkage to care with community partners.
Correctional Health's Hepatitis C screening program was awarded a 2018 Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties.