Report Critical of Quality of Care at State Prison
A court-appointed panel of medical experts reported that conditions at San Quentin State Prison "demonstrate multiple instances of incompetence, indifference, cruelty and neglect" in providing health care to inmates at the prison, the San Jose Mercury News reports. The panel, inspecting progress on a 2002 court order to provide adequate health care in California prisons by 2008, found that overall compliance with the court order was "nonexistent" (Gladstone, San Jose Mercury News, 4/14).
The panel inspected the medical records of 10 inmates who died over the past several years at San Quentin and in each case found "serious problems" with treatment administered. "[M]ost deaths were preventable," the report states. Doctors and nurses misdiagnosed patients, gave patients incorrect medications, neglected patients with chronic diseases for months or years and delayed sending patients to emergency departments until their illnesses had become fatal, according to the report.
The panel visited San Quentin in 2005 and documented unsanitary clinics and patient housing. They found that dentists examined multiple patients with the same pair of gloves and without light or water, that nurses until recently examined patients in a broom closet and that hospital cells are not wheelchair accessible.
Doctors reported to the panel that they could not find medical records for at least 30% of the inmates they examined.
"We found a facility so old, antiquated, dirty, poorly staffed, poorly maintained, with inadequate medical space and equipment and overcrowded that it is our opinion that it is dangerous to house people there with certain medical conditions and also dangerous to use this facility as an intake facility," the medical experts wrote.
The examiners also found "extensive shortcomings" at Salinas Valley State Prison and the California State Prison at Sacramento, the Los Angeles Times reports. They noted "the same management problems that plague San Quentin," including inadequate medical supplies, dirty facilities and an indifferent attitude among senior medical staff, the Times reports. However, they did note some improvements at the two facilities (Rau, Los Angeles Times, 4/14).
"In a startling admission of failure," corrections officials on Thursday testified before a Senate hearing that they have "all but abandoned hope of providing adequate health care," the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
G. Kevin Carruth, undersecretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, said, "Nothing in [the report] was overstated," adding, "We have a health care system that either through neglect or poor care puts people's lives in danger. We know we have a very serious problem."
Carruth said that the state this week signed a contract with a private company that will design a new contracting system and solicit bids from managed care providers. Carruth said that the state did not have a cost estimate for the new system and did not know whether any private health care providers would be willing to take over the system, the Chronicle reports.
Renee Kanan, director of the prison health care system, said she did not have the authority to order hygienic improvements to the facilities, such as wash basins.
Donald Specter -- director of the Prison Law Office, the inmates' rights advocacy group that won the court-ordered settlement three years ago -- said, "We are in a state of emergency and people are dying." He added, "I don't think it's possible to stop the bleeding without a receiver taking over" (Sterngold, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/15).
Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) said U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson had told her that he has a "dire concern over the ability and commitment of this prison bureaucracy to fix" the problems (Thompson, AP/Sacramento Bee, 4/14). Romero added, "The system is so completely broken that I wonder if it is worth even trying to repair."
Romero said a court-appointed receiver with extensive authority to implement changes, including hiring and firing authority, could be the most effective way to provide an at-least minimum level of health care in the state prison system (San Francisco Chronicle, 4/15).