Review Finds Inadequate Health Care at Salinas Valley State Prison
Health care services at Salinas Valley State Prison in Monterey are "incomplete and fragmented," according to a report issued by a team of experts last week, the Los Angeles Times' "PolitiCal" reports (St. John, "PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 8/23).
In 2006, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that federal oversight of the prison system was needed after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of medical malpractice or neglect (California Healthline, 8/12).
In June, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ordered an investigation of prison-based mental health care facilities managed by the California Department of State Hospitals after lawyers representing California state inmates asked him to expand oversight to include DSH.
At a hearing, attorneys discussed the deaths of two Salinas Valley State Prison inmates who had histories of trying to harm themselves. One of the prisoners hanged himself and left behind a written message saying that his feelings of depression had worsened at the facility.
Prisoner advocates and an expert witness argued that the deaths show that mental health treatment has not sufficiently improved in the facilities under federal oversight (California Healthline, 7/12).
In the 106-page report released Friday, inspectors called health care treatment at Salinas Valley "callous." They also described the health care facilities at the prison as "filthy."
The inspectors reported that:
- More than half of physicians at the prison are under professional monitoring;
- Nurses accused of diverting drugs remain employed at the prison; and
- Emergency medical treatment sometimes is performed in hallways.
The report also noted that the prison has had four chief medical officers in the past four years and that the current CMO is part-time.
In addition, inspectors said there appears to be "reluctance" by the prison to acknowledge the mistreatment of inmates by physicians.
Friday's report marks a significant change from an earlier review finding that Salinas met 88% of health care goals.
Joyce Hayhoe -- a legislative liaison for J. Clark Kelso, federal overseer of California's prisons -- said the findings "poin[t] to the fact that turning around an entire health care system from a time when inmates were dying needlessly is obviously not an easy job, and not one that happens overnight."
She said that while the federal receivership has "made great strides at improving health care, there is certainly still work to be done."
Meanwhile, Don Specter -- director of the Prison Law Office -- called the findings "alarming" and said that "Salinas is among the worst" prisons in the state ("PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 8/23).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.