Thousands of hours of overtime worked by Ohio prison nurses in recent years have cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
The Plain Dealer reports overtime for registered nurses in the prison system has increased by nearly 60 percent since 2012. The newspaper says its analysis of payroll records show some prison hospital nurses have earned over $100,000 in overtime in one year.
The state presently has about 480 registered nurses working in prisons and about 50 job vacancies. Ohio has relied on volunteer overtime to fill the staffing gaps.
Union leaders say they have urged administrators to hire more nurses, but retention remains an issue. Many candidates are fearful of prisons, and most of the state's prisons are in rural areas.
Stuart Hudson, the managing director of health care and fiscal operations for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, says hiring more nurses would spread costs out over more people, but the state would still have to pay to make sure all shifts are covered.
"At the end of the day, we're still going to have overtime, and most folks making those large sums of money are those people who volunteer for it," he said.
State Sen. Gayle Manning, a Republican from North Ridgeville who serves on a prison watchdog committee, says the amount of overtime payments raises questions about quality of care.
"We trust the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, but I think a person making $133,000 in overtime in one year is a concern," she said.
Researchers say Ohio could help control medical and overtime costs by reducing the number of inmates in prison, especially elderly prisoners.
"Not only are these inmates older, but they are sicker, too," said Michael Jacobson, the director of the City University of New York's Institute for State and Local Governance. He once oversaw New York's Rikers Island.
"To reduce costs, you have to make fundamental changes about who goes to prison and how long they stay there," he said.