Even as a graduate student at the Wayne State University School of Medicine in the late 1980s, Carmen McIntyre, M.D., knew she wanted to take her coursework beyond the classroom setting. Now, thanks to an innovative partnership between WSU and the Michigan Department of Corrections to contract three chief medical positions, McIntyre is not only applying her expertise to the state’s prison health care system, but also helping other WSU students gain valuable, firsthand experience. We spoke with McIntyre about the transition into her new role as chief medical officer, her goals for supporting inmates and students, and how she plans to set a gold standard for correctional health care across the state of Michigan.
Hour Detroit: What about this role with MDOC spoke to you?
Carmen McIntyre: Well, my previous job was the medical director for the Detroit Wayne Health Authority. In that role, I was doing a lot of work for jail diversion, like developing programs to prevent people from going to jail, helping the legal system acknowledge when people needed medical attention, and ensuring that if someone did go to jail, that person received adequate treatment. I was exposed to different health care models and programs, and I started to ask myself, “How we can we provide quality, evidence-backed treatment in our prison system that we can continue when those people come back to the community?” I really wanted to explore that further.
HD: What new policies do you plan to implement as the new chief medical officer?
CM: There’s already a lot of innovative programming within the MDOC, but one of the things that I’d like to do is bring Wayne State’s best practices and evidence-based treatments to the system. In the community, we have standardized assessments and classification strategies that allow us to refer individuals to the most effective treatments. I want to look at outcome measures within the prisons, see where we can improve, implement those techniques, and really quantify the work that we’re doing.
HD: How else will a partnership with WSU help strengthen the MDOC’s health care system?
CM: One of the greatest benefits of contracting with an academic medicine partner like Wayne State University is that it opens the door to an entire network of doctors, nurses, social workers, and psychiatrists. Instead of having just one chief medical officer, the MDOC will now have access to countless specialists, which will allow us to approach any issues we find from a more collaborative perspective.
The other benefit is, there’s an opportunity for training and research. Not only will we be able to bring training programs into the prisons and get more people interested in correctional health care, but we’ll eventually be able to conduct studies, publish papers, and help the MDOC become a center for excellence, as well.
HD: So, this partnership will directly benefit Wayne State’s medical students?
CM: Yes, that’s the expectation. When you allow students to do clinical rotations at prison sites and surround them with professionals who are passionate about this line of work, it helps them to see that people convicted of crimes still deserve quality of life. Even if those students don’t choose a correctional setting down the road, they’ll walk away with firsthand experience and spread a positive message. They’ll also be more likely to identify trauma and take steps towards intervention, which will ultimately make them better health care professionals.
HD: Why is a sound correctional health care system important to the health of our state as a whole?
CM: At a very basic level, [it’s] important because it helps us to see everyone as equal. We come to understand that people in prison are still human beings who have the right to access health care and to be treated with dignity and respect. Also, it’s important to recognize that the vast majority of people in prison aren’t experiencing life without parole. We want to help them reintegrate in as great shape as possible, with great mental and physical health, so that they can get back out there and continue to contribute to society.
HD: What are your personal goals for this role?
CM: I tend to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants and go on instinct [type of person]. Not that it’s not there now, but I’d love to see the culture of medical professionals and leadership within the MDOC become one of excellence, in which we strive for quality, high standards of care. I want to ensure that we’re not just doing a good job or being cost-effective, but that we’re looking to set the standard for correctional health care in Michigan and across the U.S. as a whole.