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Health Care Workers at Allegheny County Jail Want Higher Staffing Levels

Fast food workers weren’t the only ones taking their message to the streets Thursday. The same day, healthcare workers at the Allegheny County Jail gathered at the County Courthouse, calling on the County Jail Oversight board to enforce staffing requirements laid out in a contract between the county and Corizon, a prison health management company.

“The numbers that have been agreed to as far as staffing for the infirmary, the mental health units – are not being met,” said Randa Ruge, and organizer with United Steelworkers, the union representing the workers.

The County Jail Oversight Board is holding its first meeting following a summer recess. Ruge said the workers and their allies are concerned that low staffing levels puts inmates at risk.

“There’s constant need for care and with the nurses having to run around and triage at all times, they’re unable to meet some of the basic needs, and they feel that this is their job and their duty,” said Ruge.

Oversight Board members include County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and County Controller Chelsa Wagner. Ruge said Wagner’s office is in the process of doing an audit of the care that is provided at the county jail.

Health workers are also in the midst of contract negotiations. They picketed before the board’s meeting because members have the ability to put pressure on Corizon to comply with the contract, and can push contract negotiations further, according to Ruge. She also said previous requests to the board have gotten a reply of “we’ll look into the issue.”

Corizon Health spokesperson Susan Morgenstern, issued the following statement in response to the picketer’s allegations:

“Corizon Health is confident that we are providing sufficient staffing levels to meet contract and patient care requirements. It is always our goal to provide full-time, permanent employees, and we are working to that end at Allegheny.”