SOUTHAMPTON, Va. (WRIC) — A lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), unsanitary conditions and not enough help, those are just some of the alarming claims from corrections officers at Deerfield Correctional Center in Southampton.
At Deerfield, a dozen inmates are dead, hundreds of others are sick and more than 30 employees are battling the coronavirus.
“I feel like they should have a hazmat team in there,” said a corrections officer.
“They’re not cleaning properly,” said one officer.
Half a dozen officers spoke exclusively with 8News about their concerns with deadly Covid-19 outbreak inside the state prison. 8News is protecting the officer’s identities out of fear of retaliation.
More than 700 inmates have tested positive for the virus.
The officers say the Virginia Department of Corrections is not taking proper steps to contain it. They back up claims from inmates that Covid-19 positive prisoners are constantly being shifted throughout the facility. “They just keep moving them around from unit to unit. To me, they are just cross-contaminating,” said another employee.
Earlier this week, DOC reported “Personal protective equipment is readily available for offenders and staff.” In a statement, DOC also said “more than 1150 KN/N95 masks have been distributed.”
However, corrections officers say PPE only arrived recently. “When the breakout first started, we did not have it,” said one officer.
Another told us he was forced to work in a Covid-19 positive pod for several days with just a cloth mask he had to purchase himself. “I worked in that red zone for a few days without a proper mask. I was never issued a KN95 mask,” he said.
DOC also says replacements are available upon request. Yet, corrections officers say that’s not what supervisors told them. “We have and we have been instructed you can only get one,” said a worker.
In addition, the officers claim they’re given paper gowns to wear and told to reuse them day after day. The officer told us, “They are not reusable gowns. They are disposable gowns.” Another officer told 8News they worried that they’re walking around with contaminated equipment. “We need fresh PPE every day, we need gowns to change,” they said.
Deerfield holds many of the Commonwealth’s elderly and medically impaired offenders.
DOC says it’s following CDC guidelines and working with the Virginia Department of Health to reduce the spread of the virus among a highly vulnerable population.
Yet, the six officers admit recent claims from inmates to 8News that no one is checking on the COVID positive inmates to make sure they’re eating and staying hydrated is accurate. “The inmates are telling the truth,” they said.
The corrections officers say there’s not enough staff. “There’s nobody on the floor, just the person in the control booth,” they claim. They say with dozens of workers out sick safety and security is at risk. “In my personal opinion, it is dangerously short,” said an officer.
Donald Baylor, Director of Organizing for the National Coalition of Public Safety Officers in Virginia tells 8News this is safety concern for not only those on the inside but on the outside as well.
Baylor said, “When we contacted the Department they assured us that everything was good and they had the right equipment but when we speak to the folks that are actually on the ground, it is a different story.”
Baylor says it’s not just Deerfield. He tells us, “You’re going to hear the same type of stories at every one of these facilities because that is what is going on at DOC.”
The corrections officers also allege it’s been a battle with human resources to get tested or quarantine when they’ve been exposed to a known COVID-19 case.
DOC has said additional nursing staff has been hired to support existing staff and in a statement DOC says: “The VADOC’s medical directors and other leadership staff in the Health Services Unit conduct daily calls with Armor Correctional Heath Services and Virginia Department of Health representatives to discuss the department’s response at Deerfield. The department has taken a comprehensive approach to mitigate the spread of the virus and effectively monitor and treat those infected at Deerfield.”
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