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Jail doctor gives inmates what they need
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Dr. Linwood Zoller laughs in his Lanier Park office last week. Zoller has been the Hall County Jail’s doctor since 1993. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Physician Linwood Zoller’s first stop Monday through Friday is the Hall County Jail. He practices a different kind of medicine than in his private practice.

In jail, prisoners don’t get what they want; they get what they need.

“I like it,” the doctor said. “I mean a lot of people say ‘How can you do that, aren’t you scared?’ No, I’m not scared of these people.”

A doctor at the jail for 20 years, he’s been practicing medicine for 26 years. He is married to Martha Zoller, a local radio personality and former congressional candidate.

In his private work, the doctor has to practice “defensive medicine,” which means ordering additional tests that are expensive and most of the time unnecessary. Defensive treatment protects the doctor from liability in the rare case the test diagnoses an illness, Zoller said.

He’s an internal medicine specialist with a private practice at the Northeast Georgia Lanier Park Campus on White Sulphur Road in Gainesville.

At the jail, he practices medicine more conservatively and has the advantage of more easily keeping track of and following up with patients.

“There’s a certain amount of freedom to that,” Zoller said.

The jail is a pretrial facility, Jail Capt. Danny Woods said. People don’t serve their sentences there unless it’s a county sentence.

The doctor is very frugal, but also provides a high standard of care, Woods said.

“He’s been a great partner with the county through his knowledge and experience,” Woods said.

The biggest lesson that Zoller’s learned being a jail doctor is how to deal with diverse people and personalities, he said.

The facility’s population is younger and in poorer health than the general population. A lot of men and women who have mental health issues and substance abuse problems are part of the jail population, Zoller said. Jail can become a revolving door for those with mental illnesses.

Zoller said he sees a lot of inmates with schizophrenia, a chronic, severe brain disorder that can cause those suffering from it to lose touch with reality. Most of the schizophrenics he sees are picked up for minor infractions.

“Most of these schizophrenics don’t have jobs, can’t afford the medication, or they take the medication and they start feeling good and they think ‘Well, I don’t need to take this medicine anymore,’ so they don’t take the medication and then they spiral out of control,” he said.

Over the years, the doctor said he’s seen a decrease of Hispanics in the jail population and an increase in women prisoners. Zoller said he believes there are fewer Hispanics in the area and in the jail because of the economic downturn.

He is unaware what a person’s charge is or the reason they are in jail most of time, but knowing or not knowing doesn’t change their care or his bedside manner, Zoller said. But he’s seen a huge increase in inmates who have drug problems, including prescription drug abuse, from 20 years ago. The jail doesn’t allow controlled substances, so some prisoners suffer physical withdraw from a drug.

“We do a lot of detoxing over there,” Zoller said. “A lot, a lot.”

Woods has worked with Zoller for about 10 years. The doctor has to wear many hats, know about a lot of illnesses and deal with a variety of people and personalities. He does it well, Woods said.

“People don’t normally go to the doctor on the street,” he said. “When they’re out in the free world, they don’t normally go to the doctor unless they absolutely have to. Here, people will go to the doctor just because they want to get out of their cell. (Zoller) has to be able to discern what’s real and what’s not real.”

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