Wisconsin prison system to open 65-bed facility for aging prisoners at Oakhill Correctional

OREGON, Wis. — A 65-bed facility catered to the needs of an aging prison population in Wisconsin is set to start receiving patients in early 2022 at Oakhill Correctional Institution in Oregon.

It’s a milestone for a process that’s taken several years at the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, starting with budgeting and planning under the Walker administration and continuing under Gov. Tony Evers.

“Our aging population, not only in the broader community but in corrections, is in dire need of this type of care,” said DOC secretary Kevin Carr. He along with a number of other DOC and OCI officials toured the facility on Tuesday, nearly complete and awaiting some final gear and equipment before welcoming inmates.

“It’s been slow going, but we’re ready now,” Kristine Thome said, the health services director at Oakhill Correctional. “Things take time and there was a lot of care and thought that went into this space.”

Short and long-term care

A room housing 15 beds for the short-term care of prisoners who have just undergone major surgeries, such as hip replacements, will be staffed 24/7 with a goal ratio of five nursing staff for every inmate.

The open room, which will include dining tables and security staff, could be used for other types of care but is not designed for acute care so much as post-operative care, officials said. Down the hall, inmates can book appointments in a tub therapy room–a room repurposed from a medical observation room that includes an easily-accessible tub and is designed for people who can’t shower or need therapy.

Connected by an elevator to the downstairs barracks, the facility includes another 50 beds for long-term assisted living care. The facility includes a therapy room that will house workout equipment and is built to accommodate wheelchair access.

Assisted Living Part 2

Kristine Thome (Health Services Director at Oakhill Correctional) stands inside the 50-bed long-term care room, designed for longer assisted living stays

“Some of our facilities around the state weren’t designed or built to the same type of ADA standards that this facility is built to,” Carr said, referencing the Americans with Disabilities Act. “We do the best that we can, but this facility is going to enable us to provide a higher level of care to those individuals that need it.”

Criteria for admission

Costing about $7 million, the facility will only accept minimum-security inmates since it is housed at Oakhill–a minimum-security institution.

Out of the state’s roughly 20,000 prisoners, about 4,500 were classified as minimum or minimum community security levels at the end of October, according to a monthly population tracker on the Department of Corrections website. About 400 of those in minimum security were 60 or older, according to the report. While a person does not necessarily have to be a certain age to be admitted, the facility is geared towards individuals with needs most commonly found in an older population.

From there, criteria admission has a number of factors, Thome said.

“We’re looking at individuals with mobility, do they have health conditions that will limit them, do they have medical diseases, chronic illnesses–it’s a pretty exhaustive list of things we would go through to say, ‘Somebody meets the criteria to be here,'” Thome explained.

The facility isn’t designed for acute care or other types of needs handled at infirmaries elsewhere in the state prison system, Carr said. The facility complements, rather than replaces, other existing medical facilities.

“We are one piece of a bigger puzzle in terms of the care,” Thome noted. “Our plan is that the individuals living here will have goals for them, milestones that they need to meet to improve their health.”

Photojournalist Brian Mesmer contributed to this report.