Cincinnati doctor gets honorary badge after sheriff says his message to inmates likely saved lives

Dr. O'Dell Owens becomes honorary deputy
Dr. O'Dell Owens receives honorary badge
Posted at 8:41 PM, Feb 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-25 20:41:18-05

CINCINNATI — A recorded plea for inmates to get vaccinated earned one retired doctor a badge.

Hamilton County Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey said Dr. O'Dell Owens, a former Cincinnati Health Commissioner, coroner and recently retired Interact for Health CEO, created a video that likely saved lives and resulted in improved working conditions for employees.

The sheriff called Owens for help in mid-January as COVID-19 cases climbed in the Tri-State.

"Our jail officers, every day they walk into this institution to face the unknown," Sheriff McGuffey said. "When they come in, part of that unknown with COVID was, am I going to get sick? Am I going to get COVID even if I'm vaccinated?"

McGuffey said she felt the unvaccinated inmates hesitant to get shots could use a dose of persuasion from Owens. Without a script, he recorded a video message.

"(It was) the message I thought they needed to hear, not to be judgemental," he said.

"You are still a human being no matter where you are," Owens said in the video. "As a human being, you need to care about yourself and about others. So, get the vaccination. When you come back and come home, don't let not having a vaccination keep you from getting a job or visiting the people that you love and haven't seen in a while. Stay healthy. Get the vaccination. Be safe."

Days later, the jail's weekly vaccination totals rose from 9 to 34 to 55 in three weeks. Each week since, at least 40 more chose to be vaccinated.

"He addressed their hope, their hope for the future, their hope for their health for the future, their children, their parents, everybody who really does miss them and support them," McGuffey said. "Hope is contagious. In an incarcerated environment, they share that. They share that with each other. That's the part of the video that touched me and I'm certain that was the part of the video that sets it apart from anything else we have shown (to inmates)."

Owens said he is happy the video had the ability to impact lives.

"It's the magnitude (of the video)," Owens said. "As she said earlier, her staff is going to be safe and when they leave, their families are going to be safe."

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