DEANNA MEZEN (HMP Oakwood)
AWARD WINNER 2020-21: Deanna gets her Award for her all-round excellence as a nurse and colleague at HMP Oakwood, including her “gold standard” end-of-life care for prisoners and their families – in the words of the Governor, she is “simply the best prison-based nurse I have come across”.
[This Award is supported by The Hanley Trust.]
Jeff Parker, Regional Lead Nurse and Initial Nominator, felt Deanna Mezen should be recognised “for the real difference that she makes to our patients” lives every day. Although citing her outstanding work for the Veterans in Custody and Transgender groups, it is her work on Palliative Care that leads her nomination, and is detailed here as an example of a nurse delivering remarkable practice.
In recent years, says Jeff, “a number of patients have passed away at HMP Oakwood due to terminal illness. Deanna played an integral part in their care, co-ordinating and managing their final wishes to ensure a dignified death and working in partnership with Compton Hospice during their final days. At the subsequent inquests, significant praise was given by the Coroner’s Office in relation to the high quality, non-judgemental and exemplary care that was provided at HMP Oakwood.”
He goes on to observe that “when patients choose a prison as their preferred place of death, rather than the offer of spending their last days in a local hospice bed, you know that somebody must be doing something right. This outcome is down to Deanna and the impact that she has made on the Team’s operations. She has encouraged the mind-set that exceptional palliative care and a dignified death can be delivered, in a secure environment, providing compassion and kindness to prisoners and their families during these difficult and challenging circumstances.”
Sandy Watson, Oakwood’s Visits & Family Interventions Manager and Butler Trust Local Champion shared a personal testimonial by the family of one person she had cared for:
“Words are not enough to express our gratitude towards you for the care you have provided to our son. My family and I will always be indebted to you. You are a credit to the healthcare service and to the prison. Thank you for treating him as a person and not a number.”
Sandy says “Deanna is passionate about the care that she provides” and feels “very strongly that patients in custody should receive high quality care, particularly when they are at the end of their lives. She has been working on the implementation of the ‘Dying Well in Custody Charter’ and has worked in partnership with the prison around the standards of care in place. This is a huge achievement and one that, as a senior management team, both Care UK and G4S are hugely grateful.”
Deanna’s work has not gone unnoticed more widely, Sandy says, and “over the last six months Deanna has been contacted by other prisons in the region, requesting support around Palliative Care needs in other prisons. She has been asked to visit patients and assess their needs. This in itself is achievement as other facilities are recognising the care that has been provided at Oakwood, thus seeing our prison as providing excellent and exemplary care for our end-of-life patients.”
Sandy adds that Deanna “could never be described as ‘just a nurse’, because it is clear that she is a multi-faceted, skilled and knowledgeable clinician and an advocate for others…She is the kind of nurse that everyone wishes to be. She is compassionate, caring and would never compromise the care that she provides, for any reason. The nursing staff hold her in high regard. They value her knowledge and her skills and you often hear: ‘I want to be the kind of nurse that Deanna is’”.
Deanna’s Line Manager, Oakwood’s Lead GP, notes that “the size of the task of implementing the ‘Dying Well in Custody’ Charter cannot be underestimated. I take compassionate and caring as a given in a good nurse, but the ability to engage stakeholders and overcome significant challenges, acting as an advocate for men that society would rather forget about due to the nature of their offences, and not taking no for an answer are admirable characteristics.”
One Coroner called it “a testament to the staff and, in particular, to Deanna when a patient indicates that their preference would be to die in prison rather than in hospital or in a local hospice.” The Coroner also indicated that “if he were a prisoner, he would also choose to die at HMP Oakwood, as it was obvious that the prison healthcare provided was Gold Standard.”
As well as working in one of Europe’s biggest prisons, Deanna will find time to “come in and sit through the night holding the hand of the dying man with no-one left to care for him. That in itself says everything about the kind of nurse she clearly is.”
Sandy explains further that “things that might sound simple, such as keeping the patient’s cell door open to allow easy access for health and social care, medication on demand and TLC, is not to be undervalued in a secure environment. She has worked closely with the prison within the constraints of a regime where security sometimes trumps dignity to change the culture to embrace a ‘good death’ in prison, where historically fear and isolation would have prevailed. The ability to foster trusting relationships with both the Senior Management of the prison, prisoner health champions and veteran groups, demonstrate her communication skills, advocacy and passion for prison healthcare.”
She calls ‘health in justice nursing’ Deanna’s “calling”, and notes that “Prison Nursing for her truly is a ‘work of heart’. She sees individuals that are vulnerable and often forgotten in society and she ensures that all of their holistic needs are met, regardless of their crime, their social backgrounds or even their behaviour in custody. She sees each of them as individuals, as human beings, and this is reflected in her care and her approach to their care. She treats them with dignity and respect, she fosters strong, empathetic, therapeutic relationships with each individual she sees in her clinics. This is reflected by the compliments that are received each month regarding her treatment and her approach.”
Governor John McLaughlin says Deanna is “simply the best prison-based nurse I have come across in the 26 years I have been in this business. Everything she does is completed to the highest of standards and with great professionalism. Men choosing to die in prison rather than at a community hospice, because of the care they receive from Deanna is testament enough for the Trust to recognise this amazing person. She sits with dying men through the night to ensure that they do not die alone. She is loved and admired and placed on a pedestal by the residents of Oakwood. She is recognised as being the very best so much so that lots of public sector prisons are tapping into her methods.”
Deanna calls herself “a nurse who is truly passionate about high standards” and concludes, touchingly, that she is “one of the lucky ones who do a job I love to do, surrounded by like-minded professionals that have the same vision of health in justice that I do.”