Lawmakers to Address Problems in Prison Medical Care
In response to a "rash" of deaths in a women's prison, state lawmakers are set to propose legislation that would allocate "tens of millions" of dollars for better treatment and monitoring of inmates' medical conditions, the Associated Press reports. Last year, 17 inmates died at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, the facility used to treat female inmates from throughout the state. Medical teams from two state universities are investigating the deaths, which advocacy groups say could have been prevented if inmates had received better care. On Monday, state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) said she intends to introduce legislation that would ban the Department of Corrections' use of medical technical assistants. MTAs are guards with medical training, whose "first duty" is prison security. Kuehl said there is a "conflict" between the two roles of the MTA, making it difficult to "reasonably function" in both capacities. In addition, Kuehl is attempting to lift the $5 copay inmates are charged each time they seek medical treatment. Noting that inmates earn 17 cents an hour, Kuehl said, "It's keeping prisoners who need medical attention from seeing a doctor." To improve "standards and oversight," her legislation also would require all prison medical programs to receive accreditation from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. State Sen. Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles), who chaired the Joint Legislative Committee on Prison Construction and Operations hearing on the prison deaths, said lawmakers may look for "at least" $10 million to develop and implement an electronic system to track inmates' medical records. Polanco said, "Everything is still done by hand. As long as it's done by hand, there are room for breakdowns." He added, "The fact is we need to bring our health delivery system into the new ages. It comes down to money" (Thompson, Associated Press, 1/22).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.