Portable training for the UConn nurses who care for inmates

Storrs — A $1.1 million van outfitted with prison bunk beds and realistic “breathing” inmate mannequins made its first stop Monday on its way to serve as a mobile classroom for nurses in the state’s prisons.

The UConn School of Nursing opened the 40-foot Correctional Nursing Simulation Van to the public during a launching ceremony on campus. The van, paid for with federal dollars, is the only one of its kind in the country, UConn officials said.

Staff from the School of Nursing will drive the van to the state’s 16 state correctional facilities where they will bring prison nurses aboard for hands-on training sessions. It will re-create the cramped quarters in a prison cell and allow the nurses to learn new skills on site with simulated mannequins. High-tech cameras will allow instructors to observe and film the nurses and give them instant feedback.

Until now, the state’s 400 prison nurses would have to take up to a day away from their jobs to get training at a central site in Farmington or Cheshire.

“Training-wise, it’s going to be a big improvement because getting people to training was a logical nightmare,” said Steve Swan, an LPN who works at Corrigan Correctional Center in Montville. “Now they can get on the van and get training in about one hour, rather than take the whole day.”

The immaculate interior of the long van is divided into three rooms, including a mini conference room and a simulated prison cell.

The cell looked a bit more like an antiseptic hospital room but for the metal bunk beds and the blinking, breathing mannequin named “Carl” lying on the floor. In this particular scenario, Carl was “injured” when he fell or was pushed from his bunk bed. Desiree Diaz, assistant clinical professor at the School of Nursing, worked the controls to simulate Carl’s breathing and talking. She drew smiles from the visitors when she had him say, “I don’t like needles.”

The University of Connecticut Health Center has been contracted by the state Department of Correction to provide health care services to all state inmates. The roughly 400 nurses take care of the 18,000 people in the state’s prisons, jails and halfway houses. These nurses deal with a population of some of the most behaviorally complex and physically ill patients. Nearly half of the state’s inmates were on medications as of June 2011, UConn officials said.

“It’s like a dream come true,” said Connie Weiskopf, director of Nursing and Patient Care Services for UConn Health Center’s Correctional Managed Health Care. “It’s going to be a model for the rest of the country.”

prison van

Desiree Diaz, an assistant clinical professor at the UConn School of Nursing, demonstrates how