“Mr. Juarez!” A pause. “Mr. Juarez, why are you on the floor?” No response. “Mr. Juarez! Mr. Juarez!” Several minutes later four guards jogged through the open pod door and up the stairs to Hector’s cell. They carried no backboard or medical bag. Louis, the guard who found Hector on the floor, asked, “Where is medical?” His African accent was unmistakable. “Code Blue! Pod 3! Code Blue! Pod 3!” A radio squawked with garbled sound and static.
I stood at my cell door and watched through the window, unable to see what happened on the tier above me. While brushing my teeth four more guards streamed through the open door and walked up the stairs. Ten minutes had passed since Louis found Hector unresponsive on the floor. Another minute and a group of nurses arrived carrying a red Emergency Response duffle bag. Six more guards rushed in behind them, out of breath after running from the other end of Central Prison. After fifteen minutes a doctor strolled in at a brisk walk with two more nurses in street clothes. Two guards pushed a gurney behind them.
Somehow twenty-one staff were crowded along the narrow tier above me. I tried to imagine what it looked like with so many people clustered near Hector’s cell. Only two or three could squeeze into the cell with him. What were all of the guards for?
It took a bit over twenty minutes from the time Louis radioed in the Code Blue to the point where Hector was strapped to a backboard, carried down the stairs, and checked by a doctor. Finally, upon making some decision I couldn’t see a guard and two nurses wheeled Hector out of the block. The rest of the guards milled around for a few minutes before they too left.
Weeks later we learned Hector had a stroke and was paralyzed on the right side of his body. It would be another month before he gained enough strength to walk with a cane and return to the block.
While Hector was gone I stood in the canteen line one day, waiting for my turn at the window when two guards’ radios squawked “Code Blue! Code Blue! Unit Three!” Again a parade of guards ran, jogged and fast-walked down the hallway and out of a unit door to a plot of ground used for Native American service. A prisoner was having a seizure. Those of us standing in the canteen line, our unit sergeant and a guard stood dumbfounded, counting. Twenty-one, two, three – a doctor and two plain clothes nurses brought up the rear. Twenty-six staff responding to a medical emergency that, at most, might have required two nurses, a few staff from the unit and a doctor.
Why so many staff in one area after the incidents at Bertie and Pasquotank Correctional Facilities, where similar ploys were used to draw staff away from other parts of the prison? This couldn’t be the new Security Response Team, not when there are still staffing vacancies that need to be filled. This must be the training element where response time of new hires were measured against the notoriously slow nursing staff. It makes me wonder if next, as a way of rating their response time, prisoners who are hospitalized, and still alive, will be given surveys. How did we do? Check one of these boxes:
- I feel safe and secure
- I feel okay about staff’s response
- Needs Improvement
- God help us!