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VCU Health Security Care Unit receives thank you letters

Prison inmates send thank you notes to VCU Health team members for care during the pandemic. 

Paul Taylor and a member of the Security Care Unit share a hug Paul Taylor and a member of the Security Care Unit share a hug. (Photos: Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

By Laura Rossacher

Filling two huge manila envelopes, dozens of thank you notes and letters from inmates at Greensville Correctional Center made their way to VCU Health care providers one afternoon in early March.

“They were looking for a way to show their gratitude and appreciation for the compassionate care they receive every time they come here,” said Paul Taylor, the father of one of the inmates giving thanks. Taylor delivered the notes of gratitude to VCU Medical Center, along with big hugs. “Being treated with dignity and respect matters to all, but especially to inmates.”

Giant, decorative thank you card“Your strength, compassion, empathy, courage and dedication has been uplifting, inspirational and energizing,” read one of the more than 50 thank-you notes delivered. Inmates drew another message of gratitude, in poem-form, alongside beautiful roses onto a bandana: “Look in the mirror and smile bright because what you do helps us get through.”

The Security Care Unit and ambulatory clinic provide compassionate, holistic care for incarcerated patients at Virginia Department of Corrections facilities throughout Virginia. Last year, about 1,820 inmates sought care for medical needs at this VCU Medical Center unit.

Set up for both inpatient and outpatient care, the department is a one-stop shop for patient care needs going beyond what a prison or jail can provide. The wide range of general and specialty services include oncology, diagnostic imaging, cardiology, neurology and surgery. Previously located in West Hospital as “West 9 West,” the Security Care Unit and clinic have operated at Critical Care Hospital under the new name since 2008. 

“We have a small, dedicated team, which means tons of comradery and support for each other,” said Tonka Williams, nursing director for the unit and one of the thank-you note recipients. “We don’t care what types of crimes the inmates have done. We see them as patients, and we treat them as patients. They know that we are their advocates.”

Paul Taylor gets a hug from a care team memberSince the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Security Care Unit and clinic have also taken care of COVID-positive patients. “It has been tough, but we are resilient and have grown closer as a team,” said Jacque Bishop, interim nurse manager, while holding some colorful balloons that accompanied the thank-you notes.

The unit employs 39 health care workers, who spend their time caring for patients in either the outpatient clinic or the 16-bed inpatient unit. Some of the nurses travel to Department of Corrections facilities, if needed.

Taylor, who runs RVA League for Safer Streets, a basketball program that brings teams from rival neighborhoods to find camaraderie on the court, serves as a mentor for many who are in or returning from prison. “Many of the letters I delivered today express gratitude for the incredible work these doctors and nurses have provided during such an incredibly challenging time like COVID.”

Taylor knows that sense of gratitude first-hand. In 2017, he was released from Greensville after serving 22.5 years: “I remember the compassionate care well,” he told the nurses. He also credits VCU Health for saving his younger son, who suffered a ruptured appendix while incarcerated.

For Williams, Bishop and their coworkers, care delivery goes beyond clinical duties. As active members of VCU Health’s Bereavement Committee, they send cards to family members of deceased patients several times a year. “We want them to know that someone is thinking about them,” Bishop said.

Asked to put the gesture of these thank-you notes into words, Williams got emotional: “I have been on this unit for 13 years. These notes mean more than a million dollars. They’re a testament to the tremendous growth of our unit, the dedication of our nurses and what it means to truly be a voice for our patients.” 

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