JJ Health Services Recognizes Importance of Nurses

Author: Jerry Higgins, Communications Officer

The World Health Organization designated 2020 as the “International Year of the Nurse” in honor of the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. If there is a group of nurses that represent the courage and care needed to deal with the pandemic this year, it definitely includes the nurses who work for the state’s Juvenile Justice section.

They are compassionate toward youth. In many situations, they are the first health care “responder” when youth enter the state system and provide more health care than many youths receive prior to their assignment to a youth detention center or youth development center.

“Health issues can be the deal breaker for any other efforts to address the needs of youth entering the system,” said Juvenile Justice Health Services Director Dale Floyd. “Nurses rely on the staff, administration, families … to help identify health issues that impact all aspects of the youth life, including actions and attention. Nurses help create a photo of what’s going on with a youth to help all other JJ disciplines, to look at the youth as a whole person; the health factors that may influence their actions and mood. Nurses also play a critical role in the plan for their transition back to the community.”

Nurses play an important role in helping the youth in facilities find that road of hope.

When a youth is admitted to a juvenile detention center, they receive medical and mental health screenings. For some, this may be the first time they have had a full assessment by health care professionals in years. If needed, follow-up medical services such as dental are provided. These screenings assist Juvenile Justice in providing appropriate care and nurses are key assist in assessing for this care.

“Nurses in JJ are so important,” said Nurse Practitioner Robin Donta, who currently is a provider at Wake Detention Center, Edgecombe Youth Development Center and Chatham YDC, and has also worked at Lenoir YDC and Dillon YDC. “Many of these kids have fallen off general health care and routine health care that others get. The nurses screen them when they come in and identify their needs and set up appointments when they leave the facility. Nurses are first in line when they have multiple injuries and mental health needs. These high-risk kids should be getting the most health care.

“I go into facilities once a week. There are nurses there every day. They are the eyes and ears of the medical provider. They know so much more and all nuances of what’s going on.”

Dillon Detention Center in Butner has one of the larger health services facilities in the juvenile justice system. A recent Primary Health Care partnership with the University of North Carolina Health Services began in November. UNC Pediatrics runs a weekly clinic with Juvenile Justice nurses to provide primary care, as well as continuing care for serious issues such as diabetes and asthma. It’s up to the nurses, however, to initially search for health information from the youth, their primary care physician (if they have one), parents or relatives.

“It’s like doing detective work,” said Ebony Crutchfield, one of the center nurses at Dillon YDC. “When you ask the parents about the kid’s history, it’s like playing Clue. That’s the challenging part of this job. Some kids do not have a good history of going to a doctor. We’re trying to work with them. We tell them, ‘We’re here for you. We want to advocate for you. We want you to leave here with no problems.”

The “detective work” includes finding out if the youth has a food allergy, which means his/her diet has to be altered. Or it could be finding out if the youth has trouble sleeping without having a sleep study performed. What’s wrong? What can be done? 

“They need to understand we provide health care services,” Crutchfield said. “We don’t focus on the crime they committed. We focus on keeping them well for when they leave to go home.”

During the pandemic, the nurse’s role has grown exponentially.  They have worked with the youth to teach them about how the virus is transmitted, including the 3 W’s – wash hands, wait 6 feet part and wear a mask. All youth are provided masks, quarantined if necessary and are provided activities if they are in quarantine. They have books, games and tablets to use if they are in quarantine. They also have other activities once they are out of quarantine. 

The positive atmosphere allows nurses and staff to focus ahead on the care and not look back at the past. The youths have been able to make more calls to family during the pandemic and meet with staff to talk over issues they may have in dealing with the pandemic. An example is quarantine; if they are struggling with it, staff can notify nurses or mental health staff for assistance in working with the youth’s issues. 

Floyd said it’s been a challenge, but the nurses and other staff have risen to the challenge by supporting each other. In recognition of that, at the end-of-year Health Services meeting, JJ Health Care Services presented a special recognition of thanks to all health Care Services staff for their exceptional service during the pandemic. The recognition, a photo taken by Crutchfield of her nephew on a college campus looking ahead to the future (seen below), represented the youth population served in JJ Health Care and the impact.

“Health Care Services wanted a photo representing where the kids want to be in the future,” said Crutchfield, who is a photographer in her off hours. “It shows you can be bad now but you can still be anything you want to be. There is hope.”

And nurses play an important role in helping the youth in facilities find that road of hope.


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