The New York City Health Department is launching an initiative to educate health-care providers on how to better serve patients who have been involved in the criminal-justice system.
Health Department staff will visit individual health-care providers and staff at more than 150 primary-care and family-medicine practices throughout Harlem, Brooklyn and the South Bronx now through early January.
The campaign will encourage health-care providers to screen more comprehensively for chronic diseases and behavioral health conditions, while working to connect patients with local organizations focused on helping this population.
“The data show that involvement with the criminal justice system—even brief contact with the police or indirect exposure—is associated with lasting harm to people’s physical and mental health,” said Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot.
Patients who have been involved with the criminal-justice system exhibit higher rates of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, substance abuse and mental-health issues, when compared with the general population, city health officials said.
Those patients also are more likely to be discriminated against by health-care providers due to their criminal record, they said.
More than 40% of men released from state correctional facilities reported being discriminated against when they sought health care, according to a study by the Health & Justice, a journal that was cited by the city.
And those who reported being incarcerated, on probation or on parole—about 639,000 New Yorkers—were twice as likely to have poor mental health or poor physical health than people who had never been incarcerated, on probation, or on parole, the study found.
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No standards exist for whether health-care providers should ask about their patients’ criminal history. But Micaela Linder, director of health policy at the Fortune Society, a criminal-justice advocacy group, said many formerly incarcerated people tell their doctor because “a lot of them know that the health-care provided inside isn’t always ideal,” she said.
Doctors who work in locations with a high number of patients who have interacted with the justice system, or doctors who recognize the signs of trauma associated with incarceration, may be more likely to ask their patients, Ms. Linder said.
The Health Department’s initiative also will remind health-care providers to avoid asking about the circumstances of their criminal history and encourage the use of “people-first” language, such as “person with a history of criminal justice involvement,” rather than “former felon.”
Small changes in behavior from health-care providers can make a big difference for patients who aren’t accustomed to positive experiences with the health-care system, Ms. Linder said.
“Those little human moments can really go a long way,” she added.
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