43°F
weather icon Clear

Testing, treatment for hepatitis C now standard in Nevada prisons

CARSON CITY — With costs sharply down for treatment that cures hepatitis C, the state Department of Corrections has quietly moved to make testing for the blood-borne virus standard procedure for all new inmates.

The department plans to test the more than 12,000 existing prisoners under its supervision by February.

The effort, a significant policy change, also revises treatment and testing procedures for inmates just entering the system. The department has budgeted about $6.8 million this year and next for testing and treatment, including hiring of contract staff to help with getting all inmates tested over the next few months.

With treatments now boasting a better than 90 percent success rate, medical standards for testing have been expanded to cover all at-risk groups, including inmate populations. And testing an entire prison population is now logistically feasible, department officials told the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee Friday.

In addition, “returning inmates to their communities cured of chronic (hepatitis C) is an invaluable step toward HCV elimination and successful community reintegration,” corrections department Deputy Director for Support Services John Borrowman wrote in a memo to the committee.

The department was not asking lawmakers for approval of the program or its funding. But committee members nonetheless chastised the cash-strapped department for not including the program in its budget request earlier this year and going deeper into the red to implement it now.

“I have concerns that given your previous budgetary problems, and the frustrations that this committee has had in managing those problems, why you chose to do this,” finance committee co-chair Rep. Maggie Carlson, D-Las Vegas, told Borrowman and other department officials Friday. “You keep digging a hole and instead of building a ladder you just get out another shovel.”

Borrowman said the corrections department didn’t budget for the program earlier because treatment options have evolved swiftly, costs have come down and more doctors have adopted the new treatment protocol.

“All of those things were yet undeveloped for agency request into the budget cycle,” he said.

Testing for the virus costs $8, while the cost of a new drug that cures the disease has declined from roughly $100,000 to $5,000. The department is bound to provide appropriate medical care to inmates.

“If they come in with diseases, we don’t get to say, ‘Well, those are choices you made before you got here.’ We are obligated to provide that medical care,” Borrowman said after the hearing.

Curing inmates also is part of preparing them to re-enter society after they leave prison. It comes with education to change the risky behaviors which led them to contract it, and likely avoids costlier health complications down the road.

“Hepatitis C is the first disease that I know of as a registered nurse that we can cure with just a pill,” said Theresa Wickham, the department’s chief of nursing. Inmates leaving prison are “going to go home and they’re going to be healthy individuals.

“And so the cost benefit is not only just in the actual treatment but also healthier public communities, she added. “It’s really a public health issue.”

Borrowman said the department will seek approval from the committee for a transfer of contingency funds to cover the program early next year.

Contact Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
RJ Politics Podcast with Deval Patrick - VIDEO
2020 Presidential Candidate Deval Patrick joins hosts Rory Appleton and Steve Sebelius on the RJ Politics Podcast.
Tom Steyer on Donald Trump and the economy - Video
Tom Steyer joins the RJ Politics podcast to talk about his campaign presence in Nevada and how he plans to take Trump on when talking about the economy. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas City Council Votes On Homeless Ordinance - Video
The Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday will discuss expanding on a controversial camping and sleeping ban aimed at deterring the homeless from bivouacking on city streets to include hours when public sidewalks are being cleaned.
Biden meets with Vegas Latino community - VIDEO
Presidential candidate Joe Biden met with members of the Latino community at Rancho High School. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Henderson, other Nevada cities consent to refugee resettlement - VIDEO
Henderson will continue to welcome refugees for resettlement, according to a December letter from Mayor Debra March. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg Speaks At Black Empowerment Event - Video
Pete Buttigieg speaks at a black empowerment event to talk about his Douglass plan.
Joe Biden at the national hospitality workers union.
Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to members of the national hospitality workers union during UNITE HERE's town hall on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019 at Culinary Union Hall in Las Vegas. @bizutesfaye
Elizabeth Warren at Culinary Union
Elizabeth Warren speaks at a Culinary Union town hall in Las Vegas on Dec. 9, 2019.
Secretary of Education visits Henderson school
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited students at Pinecrest Academy in Henderson to talk about college planning on Dec. 4, 2019. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump dropped from Terry Fator’s show on Las Vegas Strip - VIDEO
Fator has edited out one prominent figure: President Donald Trump, a focal point of Fator’s regular stage show and also Christmas show over the past 3½ years. The Trump puppet, with his pop-up hairpiece, has been sidelined from both shows until further notice. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Accused murder mastermind Frank LaPena is granted a pardon - VIDEO
A onetime Las Vegas casino bell captain who spent 25 years in prison as the accused mastermind in a notorious 1974 contract murder won his last legal battle for freedom Wednesday when the state Pardons Board granted him a conditional pardon restoring all his civil rights. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Middle: Nonpartisan voters and the 2020 election
How will the growing segment of nonpartisan or independent voters — those who have not registered with either political party, or who have left partisan politics behind — vote in 2020?
THE LATEST
Teachers union files initiative to raise Nevada’s gaming tax

An initiative to raise the top tier of the Nevada gaming tax, sponsored by the Clark County Education Association, would raise an estimated $315 million per year.