By Sheila Baltzell-Linn, www.parkwayindependent.com

(9-13-21) No cases of COVID occurred in the Mercer County Detention Facility according to Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey and Nurse Supervisor Megan Fokine, RN. There were only a few employees who contracted the coronavirus from outside the facility and remained home without spreading the virus within the Sheriff’s Office or jail. It is a fact the entire department is proud of, and Nurse Fokine says it was a joint effort.

From the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic back in 2020, Nurse Supervisor Megan Fokine and Nurse Sue Back, LPN
studied the CDC guidelines, which sometime contradicted itself, and segregated the work groups to keep their divisions safe. They worked with Sheriff Jeff Grey, and policies were made and put into place. Patrol deputies worked exclusively in their cars and were able to communicate with other staff, but were limited when it came to entering the office. Corrections employees stayed within the jail walls and were not permitted to have contact with civil, patrol, or dispatch employees. And those who were able worked from home.

Homemade masks from organizations and citizens were donated to the Sheriff’s office, as well as hand sanitizer. Sheriff’s Office staff worked to secure the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) they needed, and since they are first-responders, their department was well equipped. Masks were kept at every entrance along with hand sanitizer and disposable gloves. A method of collecting used masks for washing and reusing was put in place. Temperatures were taken at the door daily. Any employee feeling sick was instructed to stay home after a call to Nurse Fokine for discussion. These rules were followed closely. If an employee’s symptoms sounded ominous, Nurse Fokine sent them for a COVID test at the Mercer Health testing drive-thru facility or a local hospital. With the assistance of the Mercer County Health Department, these tests were sent to the OSU Hospital for rapid results. All testing went through Dr. Neil Holleran. Now, the Sheriff’s Office medical department can administer their own test themselves. Nurse Fokine said, “Mercer County Sheriff’s Office is a family. Sheriff Jeff Grey leads well, and we look to him for the rules and guidance. I found myself at the center – the point of contact for entire families. Our first issue with COVID happened when one of our deputy’s wives contracted the virus while pregnant. He was immediately quarantined. Shortly thereafter, another deputy’s wife became ill through an outbreak at a nursing home in Darke County. He, too, was then quarantined. I was nurse and advisor on a daily basis.”

On the jail there are two dorms with two separate ventilation systems. This was a feature built into the new jail. These
dorms were utilized if an inmate was positive for COVID. As inmates were booked in with 4 inmates to a booking cell
when necessary. They could be further isolated if needed. From the booking cell, inmates went into a quarantine medical dorm after temperatures were taken and an assessment was made about their health. The quarantined dorm would remain separate until 14 days from the time the last prisoner entered that specific dorm prior to entering general population. Nurse Fokine said they only had one case of a prisoner who came in sick. With PPE, the nurses were able to assess him and determined he was sick beyond a regular virus. The prisoner was quarantined and then sent over to the hospital in Coldwater where he tested positive and remained there for treatment. There was no cross contamination within the correction facility.

Nurse Fokine said there was a lot of fear among the inmates and personnel. It was her job to relax their concerns.  Her
team approached COVID like an infectious disease in a medical ward at a hospital/facility.  Educate and remind was the
mantra of their department. Scheduled sanitizing was done by everyone in the building, and doubly sanitized in high
traffic areas.  She required the use of new gloves from one area to the next. All work stations were double-sanitized. All
precautions were taken. All inmates were quarantined before mixing with the general population. Temperatures were
taken every day for every employee and inmate.

Telemed was used during this time for communicating with doctors or psychiatrists.  Inmates were not transported either for their court hearings. They used Lifesize which is similar to zoom. All computers were cleaned and sanitized twice between these online sessions. In fact, all stations and surfaces even light switches and door knobs were double-cleaned – once by the party leaving and once by the party coming.

The average daily population of inmates were between 34 to 55. Mercer County Sheriff Office has 74 full-time
employees. A majority of the staff has been vaccinated. MCSO medical staff along with the Mercer County Health
Department offer inmate’s the opportunity once a month to receive the vaccination. Through the strong leadership,
Mercer County Correctional facility has remained free from any COVID outbreaks.

UPDATE as of September 10, 2021
Unfortunately on September 10, 2021, Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey reports two inmates in the Adult Detention Facility and one jail employee have recently tested positive for Covid-19. An inmate came into the facility in late August and after approximately 12  days in jail reported to medical staff of losing sense of taste and smell and other covid-19 like symptoms.  Medical staff rapid tested the inmate and the result was positive.  A second inmate experiencing Covid-19 like symptoms has also tested positive.