Medical Care Improves in California Prisons

After years of trying to fix the healthcare system with the Californian prisons, it seems that things may finally be looking up, at least for state prisons. According to reports from “PolitiCal,” a section of the Los Angeles Times, contract prisons, which are known for taking on the overflow of inmates, have not seen the same improvements in the healthcare system just yet. J. Clark Kelso, the federal receiver who was appointed by the courts, has filed his most recent report, and though they show some optimism, it’s clear that there’s a long way to go.

The problems of the prison healthcare system first came to light back in 2006. U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson insisted that prison healthcare reform was greatly needed after it was officially determined that one inmate per week was dying because of medical malpractice. Henderson put together a comprehensive plan that would work towards ending these oversights, pointing out improvements that had occurred over nine years.

Kelso also concluded that improvements had been made. For example, the state had doubled the annual budget for prison health, and the population of prisons has decreased by about 40,000 inmates. His report also showed that the prisons had a solid medical staff on hand, and the processes that led to patients being diagnosed and treated were running smoothly. The prisons had also instated a process that would catch oversights in the prison healthcare system especially when inmates received poor care,

Still, there were problems that needed fixing, Kelso noted. They needed to improve their record keeping systems, and the scheduling system for appointments was still poor. Prisons also needed to be able to treat more illnesses onsite rather than sending inmates to hospitals, which means they needed to upgrade the treatment places within each prison.

While all of this shows progress for state prison, Kelso stated in his report that no such gains have been made by contract prisons. There are seven contract prisons in the state of California, and they are responsible for about 4,200 inmates. The state actually pays these prisons to take their overflow. GE group owns four of those prisons, and communities own the other three.

The biggest problem with these prisons seems to be what Kelso called the “lack of accountability.” No one was blamed for any poor treatment or even a misdiagnosis. None of the contract prisons had adequate staffing to meet the demands of the prisons, and they did not follow the state’s requirements of having a physician available for treatments five days per week. This meant that inmates who did need to receive care were often transferred back to the state prison, which only added to their delicate system.

The worst offender of all the contract prisons was the women’s prison in McFarland, which was owned by GE. According to Kelso’s report, the inmates, totaling 231m did not have immediate access to any physician for a solid month. Clear changes need to be made.

The state can go after these contract prisons with a lawsuit. GE Group has a contract with the state of California, and the state can file a lawsuit to seek damages if the prison cannot supply adequate care and follow the staffing requirements in the healthcare system. At this time, no lawsuit has been filed, but the state is asking that these prisons works to make physicians and nurses more available to inmates, improve their training, and work on their auditing requirements.

So while it’s good to see that progress is being made, clearly there is still some progress to be made. We can only hope that these prisons will improve over time and start delivering quality care to inmates.

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