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How Do I Get Medical Care While in Jail in New York City?

How to Get Medical Care While in Jail in New York City

Being in jail can be an incredibly difficult and stressful situation. On top of dealing with the legal issues surrounding your case, you may also have pressing medical needs that require attention. Fortunately, you have a constitutional right to receive adequate medical care while incarcerated. Here is some key information on how to go about getting the care you need while in jail in New York City.

Assessing Your Medical Needs

When you are first admitted to jail, you will go through a medical screening process. Be upfront about any medical conditions you have or medications you are taking. The medical staff will ask you questions and take your vitals to identify any immediate health issues that need addressing. Make sure to mention:

  • Any chronic illnesses like diabetes, asthma, seizures, heart conditions, etc.
  • Injuries like broken bones, cuts, pain or swelling
  • Withdrawal symptoms if you are dependent on drugs or alcohol
  • Any medications you take on a regular basis
  • If you think you might be pregnant
  • Any other physical or mental health issues

Don’t assume your conditions are in your records. Verbally inform the medical staff of your complete health status. This ensures you get proper care right from the start.

Requesting Health Services After Admission

After the initial screening, you can request medical attention at any time by:

  • Telling an officer you have a medical emergency
  • Submitting a written request to see a doctor or nurse
  • Contacting medical staff when they make rounds in your housing area

Explain your symptoms and health concerns clearly on the request form or when speaking to staff. This helps them appropriately triage and treat your issues. Be persistent if your needs aren’t being met. Continue submitting request forms regularly until you get the required care.

Types of Care Available

Jails in NYC must provide incarcerated people access to healthcare that meets community standards. The quality and timeliness should be similar to what you could receive if you weren’t locked up. Services offered can include:

  • Sick call – Seeing a nurse or doctor for new health complaints
  • Medications for preexisting conditions
  • Treatment for injuries, infections, pain, dental issues, etc.
  • Lab tests, x-rays, EKGs and other diagnostics
  • Specialty care like cardiology, neurology, surgery
  • Mental health services – Counseling, therapy, psychiatric meds
  • Substance abuse treatment
  • Prenatal care and pregnancy-related services
  • Chronic care for ongoing health conditions
  • Emergency care for health crises

If the jail cannot provide appropriate treatment internally, they must send you to an outside hospital or specialist.

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Paying for Care While Incarcerated

Inmates in the NYC jail system do not have to pay anything for medical visits, tests or medications given while locked up. All health services are free as part of your right to healthcare in jail. However, you may receive medical bills after release for any community hospitalizations that occurred during incarceration.

Getting Your Medications

Make sure the medical staff knows about ALL prescription medications you take on a regular basis. Provide the exact names and dosages. The doctor may prescribe alternatives if your regular meds aren’t on the jail’s formulary.

Getting medications usually takes one to two days after the initial request. If there is a delay, explain your symptoms to staff so they understand you urgently need the meds. Some tips:

  • Give a list of current meds to officers to speed up verification
  • Know the name of your community doctor and pharmacy
  • Write down all medications, doses, purpose when first locked up
  • Take medications as prescribed when dispensed

Confidentiality of Medical Information

Your health information is protected by HIPAA privacy laws, even while incarcerated. No one will have access to your records or know about your medical visits without your written consent. The exception is if staff need to know to preserve health and security within the facility. Talk to the medical team about any confidentiality concerns.

Addressing Problems with Medical Care

If you feel you aren’t getting appropriate or timely care for your medical needs, you have options:

  • File a grievance form with the NYC Department of Correction
  • Contact the NYC Board of Correction
  • Notify Legal Aid or other legal representatives
  • Inform the judge or your lawyer about inadequate treatment
  • Contact advocacy groups like the ACLU or Prisoners’ Rights Project

Threatening or abusive language is never okay. But firm, respectful persistence can get results. Document all health requests submitted, medications not dispensed, delays in care or denials of treatment. Specific details help substantiate complaints over medical care.

Reaching out for help ensures your basic health needs are met while navigating the criminal justice system in New York. Report new symptoms right away and keep requesting care until issues are properly addressed. With self-advocacy and support services, you can get through this difficult period safely.

I hope this overview on accessing healthcare in the NYC jail system is helpful. Let me know if you have any other questions. Best of luck getting the medical services you need.


When Health Care Is Criminalized: An Overview of NYC Jail Health Services

Know Your Rights: Healthcare in New York City Jails

Jailhouse Doctor: Providing Health Care in New York City’s Jails

Navigating Health Care Behind Bars

Prison Health News: Tips for Getting Adequate Medical Care

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