In the wake of COVID-19, and with the still ever-present opioid epidemic, New Hampshire’s prison system and county jails continue to struggle to meet the complex needs of their residents. Those needs often consist of treatment for a substance use disorder or a mental illness, and navigating parenting while being incarcerated.
UNH’s Telehealth Practice Center, through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is outfitting six rural correctional facilities and substance use recovery centers in New Hampshire with telehealth equipment to provide enhanced access to community-based recovery support services. The Supporting Individuals in Rural Corrections thru eHealth (SIRCH) consortium will not only increase access to needed services but will also help increase the level of comfort for clients who receive services through a telehealth platform – a growing health care delivery trend across the country.
The NH Department of Corrections estimates that 62 percent of incarcerated individuals in New Hampshire have a substance use disorder. At the Sullivan County Jail in Claremont, it's estimated that 85 percent of newly processed residents (pre-trial and sentenced) are under the influence of, in recovery from, or in withdrawal from alcohol and drugs. In addition, approximately 55 percent of inmates have a child under the age of 18.
“Creating a stronger system of connectivity among facilities serving incarcerated people in New Hampshire and community-based organizations that provide recovery support will create a stronger health care infrastructure for vulnerable populations in rural areas of the state,” says Marguerite Corvini, project director for the UNH Telepractice Center. This increased access to care and treatment will allow individuals to transition back into their communities with a stronger support network, while reducing recidivism and increasing public safety.
Consortium members see the potential long-term impact of providing telehealth recovery services. Incarcerated individuals will have increased access to recovery supports, both while incarcerated and when they rejoin their community.
“UNH students are our state’s future health care workforce. Efforts through this project will enable this next generation of health care leaders to gain a deeper understanding of the needs of vulnerable populations, and best practices for telehealth.”
“The telehealth equipment and support provided by UNH and this grant will give us the chance to provide all of our inmates a real time, person-to-person bridge between health care and treatment in our facility, and the medical and social services support people they will work with when they are living at home,” says Donna Magee, program director at the Sullivan County Jail.
UNH’s Telehealth Practice Center will also receive telehealth equipment to provide enhanced student learning opportunities in its on-campus facility. UNH students will be exposed not only to the telehealth technologies that are rapidly becoming part of health care delivery, but will also have the opportunity to work with a diverse population of individuals in rural areas of New Hampshire who often do not have regular access to care. Student experiences will address substance use disorder challenges from a multidisciplinary perspective, including social work, nursing, occupational therapy, early childhood learning and others.
Master of social work (MSW) Jennifer Seher ’21 is helping to lead these efforts with UNH faculty and staff.
“As a UNH social work student, the SIRCH project has given me the opportunity to assist correctional facilities and recovery centers in incorporating technology solutions,” she says. “It is exciting to see how these efforts are benefiting such a vulnerable population.”
As UNH continues to take steps to address health care workforce shortages in New Hampshire, telehealth practice has emerged as an effective way to provide care in rural areas and for populations that typically lack full access to care. The emergence of telehealth practice combined with the implementation of interprofessional education is providing an opportunity to maximize both the quality and efficiency of care, and UNH students are at the forefront of these transformative efforts.
“UNH students are our state’s future health care workforce,” says Gene Harkless, associate professor and chair of the UNH department of nursing. “Efforts through this project will enable this next generation of health care leaders to gain a deeper understanding of the needs of vulnerable populations, and best practices for telehealth.”