Critics Question ‘Unusually High’ Death Rate Among Inmates in Ventura County Jails
The Ventura County Board of Supervisors this month may sign a new $22.9 million, four-year contract with the California Forensic Medical Group, which has provided health and psychiatric care for inmates in the county jail system since 1987, but some critics have questioned the "unusually high rate of inmate deaths" under the care of the company, the Los Angeles Times reports. Law enforcement officials said that the company provides "low-cost and high-quality" care for inmates. They plan to ask county supervisors to renew the contract with California Forensic, which provides health care for jails in 21 California counties, rather than sign a competing $23.7 million contract with Nashville-based Prison Health Services Inc., the nation's largest health care provider for jails. County Chief Deputy Kenneth Kipp, who oversees county jail operations, said that California Forensic "provides an excellent level of service, far higher than required by state standards." Independent analysts also give California Forensic "good marks" for health care provided in state jails.
However, some critics contend that the company "places profit above patient care" and that the county Sheriff's Department "overlooks the situation because it is not liable for malpractice lawsuits," which California Forensic cover. They also "call attention to inmate death statistics." According to state records, the death rate per 1,000 inmates in the county's jail system ranked fourth-highest among the state's 20 largest jail systems between 1987 and 2000. In addition, the Times reports that the number of deaths in the county's three jails has "doubled on average" since California Forensic began to provide health care for inmates in 1987, and the average age at death is younger than 40. The county coroner attributed many deaths to chronic conditions, such as alcoholism and drug addiction. However, two young inmates, Raul Madera and Noel Perez, died last year after "minor infections spread." Lawyers for the families of the inmates filed suit against California Forensic, alleging that the company did not have adequate staff and "tried to keep costs down by not sending the inmates to a hospital until too late." California Forensic co-owner Dan Hustedt says that the company is "responsive" to inmates' health needs. "Anything that is going to severely affect an inmate's health has to be taken care of. We try to make the program as high quality as we can at all times," he said (Kelley, Los Angeles Times, 12/27/01).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.