A doctor's office. Arielle Levin Becker / CTMirror.org

The Transitions Clinic Network (TCN) in Connecticut, which provides health care to people recently released from prison, is expanding beyond New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford to Waterbury and New London, communities also highly impacted by incarceration.

“We currently can see a couple of hundred patients a year, but the breadth of our programs, as they currently are, is inadequate and insufficient for the needs of the 10,000 people who are incarcerated in Connecticut at any given time, but thousands more who cycle through that system yearly,” Dr. Lisa Puglisi, director of TCN (Connecticut), said on Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live.

Puglisi said more than 80% of the incarcerated population had chronic diseases, but most don’t have access to a primary care doctor when they are released from a correctional facility.

TCN plans to hire additional community health workers to bridge the gap between the care within prisons and health care available in the community.

A recent study shows how health care programs staffed with previously incarcerated community health workers accrue cost savings to the provider, in this case, TCN. The research suggests that every dollar invested in TCN returns $2.55 of savings to the state’s Medicaid program.

“Community health workers, because they’ve been incarcerated themselves, they’ve been successful in returning home, I think are the key link to really bridging, kind of two health care systems that don’t connect: the correctional health care system and the community health care system,” said Dr. Emily Wang, a 2022 MacArthur ‘Genius’ and co-founder of TCN.

Lorenzo Jones, co-executive director of the Katal Center, an advocacy group for the incarcerated, said organizations like TCN are necessary in the absence of political foresight.

“It was the lack of vision of politicians that passed the policies that said, ‘You have to go to prison and jail to get health care as a Black, or brown or rural white person,’” he said. “And so people would joke about going to prison to have their teeth fixed.”

This story was originally published Oct. 27, 2022 by CT Public.