Mixing Patients, Inmates Poses ‘Grave’ Danger, Report States
Prison inmates are routinely assigned hospital beds alongside of regular patients at the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center, exposing "thousands to (potential) grave bodily harm and death," according to a county grand jury report released Friday, the Los Angeles Times reports. Placing inmates in open wards also poses a serious escape risk, and at least two escape attempts from the hospital in 2000 and 2004 were successful, the report states.
According to the report, the practice stems from a lack of specialty medical services at county jails and a shortage of nurses in the hospital's prison ward.
John Wallace, a spokesperson for the county Department of Health Services, said the prison ward at the hospital can accommodate 35 patients, but it usually has enough nurses to treat only 18.
An examination of 34 days of records from 2005 found that 496 inmates were assigned to open wards. Of those inmates, 24 were convicted of or charged with murder, 30 were accused of sexual assault and 33 were convicted of or charged with other serious assaults, the report found.
County health officials acknowledged the practice, but said they do not know of any inmate assaults on other patients or hospital staff in open wards.
The report calls for an immediate end to the practice.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Chief Marc Klugman said the Sheriff's Department is taking steps to reduce the number of inmates place in open hospital wards. According to Klugman, who also heads the department's Correctional Services Division, the department is planning to train nurses so they can treat minor injuries at prisons.
The sheriff's office also plans to launch a telemedicine program this summer so doctors can diagnose and treat inmates via video conferencing. In addition, the department is creating a specialty clinic program where doctors visit prisons to reduce the number of inmates who leave for treatment (Leonard, Los Angeles Times, 2/11).