Jim Martin, MPSA, CCHP, is Accreditation Specialist with the National Commission Correctional Health Care (NCCHC). This post is based on his session “Working Together: Health Services and Custody Fostering Better Relationships” taking place at the 2017 National Conference on Correctional Health Care in Chicago, November 4-8, 2017. Learn more about the conference and register HERE.
When I consult in jails and prisons, one of my first concerns is the relationship among custody and healthcare staff. Effective working relationships between officers and nurses have a huge effect on health care delivery. That is why I was delighted to see Jim Martin’s session on the NCCHC National Conference session schedule. You see, Jim has nearly 23 years in law enforcement, serving as a Lieutenant and Assistant Jail Commander with the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office in Southern Indiana so his background provides a helpful perspective on relationship-building across the disciplines.
According to Jim, correctional health care and custody are facing similar challenges. Both disciplines are experiencing increasing staff shortages. Working in a jail or prison is not easy for anybody. Both disciples need to be flexible. For example, nurses must be able to change from acting as an emergency nurse to being a psychiatric nurse in a matter of minutes. Likewise, officers must be able to implement social work or crisis management with little notice. Both roles, however, are unique and not everyone has what it takes to be proficient in every area. The best medical units have the support of the custody staff and the best custody staff has the support of the health services staff.
In Jim’s experience, successful custody/healthcare teams prioritize communication and a desire to work together. Custody and health services have to work together to provide quality healthcare services. One cannot exist without the other. He describes this as a “bit of a dance” toward meeting mutual goals.
Health care professionals have a distinctive role of providing quality health care; while custody professionals have a distinctive role of custody and control. Usually, each is able to perform their roles in harmony and without affecting the other. However, there will be occasions when the roles conflict. This is where learning the dance steps toward meeting mutual goals is vital. Jim’s advice from his years of jail administrator experience is that in some situations both disciplines have to give.
The T.E.A.M. Approach
Learning to waltz can be as simple as each discipline understanding the other’s role. It is easy to assume that by working in the same organization we know what another discipline must accomplish and overcome. Jim likes using a simple acronym – T.E.A.M. – to guide relationship-building in correctional settings.
- Talk about your goals: Communication lines have to be open. Each discipline must feel comfortable talking about the goals when a crisis arises.
- Expectations are set: Set realistic expectations when working through an issue or solving a problem.
- Approach collaboration with openness: Be open-minded and approach conflict with a common goal, not individual desires.
- Meetings need to be effective: No one likes to go to a meeting just to say you have a meeting. Make these opportunities count.
Jim offers some advice for those seeking to improve relationships in their organization. For example, if you are seeking to make a change in process, answer the question “How does it benefit the agency?” He also recommends that healthcare staff learn what other disciplines do by working together on mutual projects or goals. This avoids compartmentalization and develops collaboration skills. It also helps avoid work duplication and can streamline processes.
Healthy professional work relationships create healthier workplaces. Jim’s final advice: Talk to each other. Learn from each other. Lean on each other.
How have you learned to dance with your correctional colleagues? Share your story in the comments section of this post.
This post is part of a series discussing topics addressed during sessions of the 2017 National Conference on Correctional Health Care. All posts in this series can be found HERE.