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McLean County Chief Deputy Greg Allen, photographed shortly before his retirement last week, shows large, reinforced windows in the new medical unit at the jail in downtown Bloomington that allow nursing staff to observe patients who could be at risk from hurting themselves.

BLOOMINGTON — McLean County jail inmates who need medical attention will receive their care in a sprawling new medical department when construction is completed later this year.

Renovation of the space within the existing jail started several months ago after the county opened an 80,000-square-foot addition, just east of the Law and Justice Center, which houses the sheriff’s department and the jail, in downtown Bloomington. The $39 million annex expands inmate capacity from 225 to 438 beds.

The master plan for the jail addition included expansion of the cramped area that housed the medical unit. Nurses and other medical team members worked in an area about the same size of the central nurses station in the overhauled unit.

Enhanced security for staff and inmates is one of the benefits of the state-of-the-art unit. It’s difficult to provide adequate medical care in cramped quarters, said Chief Deputy Jamie Kessinger, the county's former jail superintendent.

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Allen says a rear entrance allows access to the medical unit without interrupting the flow of healthy inmates around the jail. The entrance is equipped with a wheelchair ramp.

"We now have the proper facilities for proper medical treatment. Everything will be much more efficient," Kessinger said.

The medical department includes two observation rooms where patients can be watched from the nurses station, multiple exam rooms and a dental office.

The detention facility is staffed 16 hours per day with nurses. Physician services are provided through a contract with a corrections firm specializing in inmate care.

So far this year, the jail has handled 8,962 medical calls for inmates, according to county data. 

The county has handled some complex medical cases over the years, as inmates enter the jail with pre-existing conditions ranging from diabetes to complications from gunshot wounds. The renovated space creates the jail's first infirmary for patient care.

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Next door in the jail addition, inmates with mental health issues are housed in a special unit where they receive specialized care in a setting designed to reduce their symptoms. A study conducted for the county's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council showed 21 percent of inmates have a mental health diagnosis.

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New Chief Deputy Jamey Kessinger of the McLean County Sheriff's Department inspects a multimedia projection screen in a conference room near the medical unit being renovated at the jail in downtown Bloomington. The room can be used for group counseling, general education classes and other programs to help inmates.

In an interview prior to his retirement last week, then-Chief Deputy Greg Allen said the facility has seen positive results from its efforts to improve mental health treatment. The booking area is no longer the de facto mental health unit for the jail, said Allen.

The county's approach to comprehensive mental health treatment for its inmates has led to talks with the Illinois Department of Human Services on a proposal that could reduce the number of seriously mentally ill inmates sent to a state mental health facility.

Defendants deemed mentally unfit to stand trial are transferred to McFarland Mental Health Center in Springfield for treatment. When they are able to comprehend the charges against them and assist with their defense, they are returned to jail. 

Offices for the jail's chaplain and volunteers, and classrooms for GED and other courses are near completion as part of the renovation project.


Photos: Jail medical unit expands to meet needs of inmates

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Contact Edith Brady-Lunny at (309) 820-3276. Follow her on Twitter: @pg_blunny

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