An investigation into a complaint from an inmate at Lemon Creek Correctional Center, shown above, exposed issues with the Alaska Department of Corrections Dental Services Program. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

An investigation into a complaint from an inmate at Lemon Creek Correctional Center, shown above, exposed issues with the Alaska Department of Corrections Dental Services Program. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Report: Overhaul needed for DOC’s dental program

An investigation finds the corrections department ‘unreasonably delayed’ care for an inmate

An investigation into an incident at Lemon Creek Correctional Center exposed shortcomings in the Department of Corrections’ Dental Services Program, according to a report from the state ombudsman.

“The Ombudsman found that DOC unreasonably delayed providing necessary care for an inmate’s abscessed tooth,” said the report. “This is an example of a systemic issue that exists across state prisons and jails.”

The inciting incident occurred in July 2019, when a complaint was made to the office of the ombudsman by an inmate alleging that he had been denied timely dental care for an abscessed tooth, causing him unnecessary and severe pain for several weeks. State ombudsman Kate Burkhart investigated the incident.

“The complainant asked to see a dentist about his abscessed tooth several times. He presented multiple times with pain, infection, swelling, and other symptoms related to the dental problem,” said the report. “Despite this, he was not seen by a DOC dentist – even though dentists were on site at LCCC twice during the months he was asking for treatment. Eight weeks after the initial request for dental care, DOC arranged for the complainant to see a community provider to have the tooth removed.”

While the investigation found the DOC’s deficiencies weren’t in poor faith or deliberate, according to the report, it was a part of a systemic issue across the DOC.

“Providing dental health care services in the prison environment presents numerous challenges, including the high level of need for dental care among inmates, increased demand due to prison population growth and aging, shortages in dental staff, rising costs, and budgetary constraints,” the report said. “Even so, DOC has a duty to provide timely access to necessary dental health care services and meet the service delivery standards established in policy.”

Burkhart found that DOC was already making efforts to improve the situation during the course of her investigation, as well as offering several suggestions to correct deficiencies. Recommendations included auditing the dental program to identify capability gaps, creating a plan to reduce the number of inmates awaiting care, and to codify specific time standards for providing dental care.

The DOC accepted all of the recommendations, according to the report. A DOC spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for elaboration on the plans to improve dental care.

Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

More in News

Alaska Department of Fish and Game logo. (Graphic by Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Board of Fisheries approves Kenai River king salmon action plan

The plan adds bait restrictions for in-river fisheries, doubles the sport bag limit for sockeye salmon, and adds a swath of restrictions to the commercial setnet fishery

The Kenai Municipal Airport is seen on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
New Grant Aviation planes to double service’s flight capacity

The first of two Cessna 208B EX Grand Caravans will start transporting passengers on Monday

Stickers are available for voters at the Kenai No. 1 precinct for Election Day on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna to hold ‘I Voted’ sticker design contest

City council members approved the program during their Wednesday night meeting

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks in support of a bill increasing state funds for public education in the Alaska House of Representatives on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bill seeking to bump use of Alaska Performance Scholarship clears the House with unanimous support

The money is awarded to high-performing high school graduates to help pay for postsecondary education at participating institutions in Alaska

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Ryan Anderson answers questions from state senators during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
State officials working to meet Friday deadline for revised transportation plan

The federal government rejected the plan on Feb. 9, citing numerous deficiencies

Travis Every, top left, speaks in support of fishing opportunity for the east side setnet fishery before the State Board of Fisheries at the Egan Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Local fishers talk conservation, opportunity before Board of Fisheries in Anchorage

Local fishers from the Kenai Peninsula traveled to Anchorage this weekend to… Continue reading

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, presents information on a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for Cook Inlet’s east side setnet fishery on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bjorkman bill would pay bonuses to nationally certified teachers

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development estimates that the bonus program would apply to about 215 of Alaska’s estimated 7,315 teachers — about 3%

Alaska senators meet with members of the media to discuss education legislation after a press conference by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the topic on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dunleavy threatens veto of education bill if more of his priorities aren’t added

It is not certain there would be the 40 votes necessary to override a veto by the governor

A map displays a wide-ranging special weather statement, published Tuesday by the National Weather Service, covering Southcentral Alaska. (Map courtesy of National Weather Service)
Strong winds, low wind chills forecast through Friday

Wind chills over night may reach as low as -20 to -40 degrees in much of Southcentral

Most Read