Kiki Teal serves as vice president of operations for Harris Health’s Correctional Health Program.

Teal has more than 20 years of correctional health care experience and more than 10 years in nursing and operational leadership.

Kiki Teal serves as Harris Health’s correctional health vice president of operations. (Courtesy Harris Health)
Kiki Teal serves as Harris Health’s correctional health vice president of operations. (Courtesy Harris Health)

Since management of care at Harris County jails transitioned in March 2022 from the county sheriff’s office to Harris Health, Harris Health is directly involved in providing medical care to incarcerated patients.

Under the Correctional Health Program, Teal said she focuses her leadership on delivering high-quality patient outcomes while ensuring individuals in custody have the appropriate resouces when they are released back into the community.

In light of Harris County jail's overcrowded population and the amount of taxpayers dollars funding the outsourcing of county inmates, Community Impact interviewed Teal about the state of physical and mental health care for justice-involved patients. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What should the general public be aware of when it comes to improved health equity for justice-involved patients?

We should care because we are human, and incarcerated individuals will very likely be released back into our communities within Harris County. This vulnerable population often lacks the resources needed to address their medical and socioeconomic situations prior to incarceration. According to the Harris County website, the Harris County Jail released an average of 289 individuals a day in May. The most common method for release was through a bond, which means most of individuals are back in our community very quickly. Our goal in Correctional Health is to improve health equity based on individual needs through the care we provide them during incarceration and post-incarceration. In a sense, Correctional Health is community health.

What are some of the biggest patient needs you're seeing?

On average, approximately 68% of the individuals admitted into the Harris County Jail require some type of medical service. Patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, along with patients with mental illness and substance abuse disorders, make up a large portion of the patients receiving treatment within the jail through Correctional Health.

How does your organization's work affect the county's overall health system?

When individuals are admitted to jail, it’s often their first time they engage in full health care services. Inside the jail, we provide comprehensive medical services that include full health assessments, infectious disease, OB/GYN and chronic disease services, to name a few. Since this is a jail facility, a large portion of our population is eventually released back into the community. Individuals are stabilized, and many successfully initiate treatments prior to their release.

Individuals released are given follow-up care at Harris Health through its network of medical homes. If the individual fails to follow up, they often utilize other community resources and hospital emergency centers to access care.

Unfortunately, we’ve found that some of the ZIP codes associated with high arrest rates are also areas associated with significant health care disparities. It is something our community needs to address.

How is technology used in correctional health programs when it comes to treating these vulnerable populations?

Through the use of our automated electronic medical record system, Harris Health is working within the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Joint Processing Center to proactively identify individuals for appropriate care. These individuals are identified at various times throughout the intake process with the objective on medical need regardless of demographics, socioeconomic status or personal resource availability.

With this technology, we are able to track patients through their treatment to ensure those who require acute interventions or monitoring are treated promptly. These technology tools also provide us data associated with the time between admission and a patient’s first medical appointment, which acts as a safeguard to help us ensure patients are not missing vital follow-up appointments.