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Behind the curtain: Nursing in prison

West Moreton Health’s Director of Operations Prison Health Services Marie Finley.

Marie Finley wakes up each morning, gets ready for work and heads to Wacol.

Marie heads inside some of Queensland’s largest correctional centres where she leads the team responsible for the healthcare of prisoners.

While the setting is quite different, according to West Moreton Health’s Director of Operations Prison Health Services, providing care to prisoners is the same as nursing in any other population.

“It takes a fair bit of courage to work in this setting,” Marie said.

“It’s a secure setting and it’s a very structured environment, it’s not for everybody.”

It’s an intense workplace by anyone’s standards, however, according to Marie, providing a health service to prisoners is no different to nursing in a traditional setting, like a hospital.

“It’s not about what that person has done,” she said.

“It’s about that person in front of you. What is that person going through and how can you assist that person.

“What do they need?

“Nursing is about the care you provide – the setting you are in doesn’t matter.”

Marie oversees a team that works across four adult prisons and one youth detention centre.

There are a wide range of medical problems that arise daily from standard flu to medical emergencies.

There are a lot of routine activities such as coordinating and delivering nurse-led clinics, health promotion activities, conducting health assessments, and providing immunisations and chronic disease management.

“The staff are incredibly resourceful to meet the demands on any given day,” she said.

“There might be an emergency so the medical staff are constantly reprioritising and thinking on their feet.

“I have the most passionate and dedicated team, they are so committed to what they are doing and I can’t think of any situation that has arisen that has sat them back.

“In a hospital there is a floor above and below you whereas the centres we work in are dislocated. They don’t join up and they are not next door to each other.”

Close connections among health professionals are forged early in this type of environment.

“You have to be brave and you have to build relationships – no one can operate on their own. We lean on each other, we provide support and encouragement, and we all appreciate the importance of the care we provide.”

With 164 staff working as part of the West Moreton Health Prison Health Services team Marie said a positive outlook is key to delivering care.

“You have to acknowledge that there will be days that will be hard, but every day is a new day and there’s always something to be grateful for,” Marie said.

“Before going home each day, I end my day with seven things I am grateful for – it helps me stay positive and keep perspective on what we are doing as a team and the opportunities we have to improve health outcomes for the people we’re caring for.”


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