Lawsuit Alleges Lack of Medical Licensing in Prison Hospitals
Adding to the "mounting criticism" of prison health care in California, an advocacy group for prisoners filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court Tuesday alleging that only five of the state's 33 prisons have "licensed medical facilities" as required by law, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. A state law that took effect in 1996 mandates that prison hospitals and infirmaries obtain licenses from the Department of Health Services to ensure that the prison facilities meet certain standards of care, including adequate staffing levels, nursing care, physical facilities and medication procedures. Amanda Wilson of the Prison Law Office, the not-for-profit organization that filed the suit, said that the group is seeking a court order requiring the state to "get the facilities licensed or turn them over to a private contractor." Terry Thornton, a spokesperson for the state Department of Corrections, said that "the department believes that it needs licensed in patient treatment centers at only 16 prisons, and hopes to meet that goal in 18 months." Noting that prisoners' medical needs "can be met" by transferring them to private hospitals or to other prisons, she added that Gov. Gray Davis' (D) administration has decided to increase the licensing among prisons "incrementally," as time and money allow (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/14).
Noting that Thornton's statements indicate that the state is "apparently in no rush to meet the [licensing] standards," a San Francisco Chronicle editorial states that the "California Department of Corrections is putting inmates' health at risk." The editorial concludes: "Inmates should not have to suffer from inadequate health care while corrections officials casually decide when and where medical standards will be met. The state should embrace the spirit of the law and upgrade prison health services with dispatch" (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/15).