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State prisons still giving poor care
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SACRAMENTO  (AP) — A scathing inspector general’s report released Wednesday finds medical care remains “markedly inadequate” at a Northern California state prison, as more than a third of the prisons inspected since last year still are deemed to be providing poor care.
Problems remain even though California has spent $2 billion for new prison medical facilities, doubled its annual prison health care budget to nearly $1.7 billion and reduced its inmate population by more than 40,000 inmates in the last decade.
Mule Creek State Prison employees “demonstrated a profound inability to provide patients with adequate Access to Care. There were problems in virtually all areas,” inspectors found.
They gave the prison failing grades in 13 of the 14 key benchmarks for the care it provides to nearly 3,000 inmates in Ione, about 40 miles southeast of Sacramento.
Also Wednesday, the federal receiver who has run the prison medical system for the last 10 years released a third prison back to state control over the objections of attorneys representing sick inmates.
Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office, said he may ask a federal judge to overturn receiver J. Clark Kelso’s decision to relinquish federal control of inmate health care at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison 225 miles east of Los Angeles.
Specter said it is disturbing that the inspector general has found six of 16 prisons inspected so far are still providing poor care. He said problems persist even at some prisons where the inspector general deemed care to be adequate, such as Chuckawalla Valley.
Corrections Secretary Scott Kernan said in a statement that the Chuckawalla Valley decision demonstrates the significant steps the state has taken in recent years to offer appropriate health care to inmates.
The poor showing by more than a third of prisons “shows the complexities of providing adequate health care in some prison settings,” Kelso spokeswoman Joyce Hayhoe said. As for Mule Creek, “we will be making needed improvements as quickly as possible,” she said.
The problems at Mule Creek start with a severe shortage of doctors and nurses, inspectors said.
That led to poor morale and complaints that providers are overworked and faced “perpetual scheduling backlogs that only seemed to get worse.” Morale was so bad that prison guards stopped the inspectors to warn of the medical staff’s poor attitude.
Inspectors also reported poor health care leadership and supervision because of frequent turnovers and lengthy vacancies.
Prison managers largely blamed the 2013 opening of the California Health Care Facility for the staffing shortages. About a quarter of Mule Creek’s health care staff transferred to the new prison medical facility when it opened in Stockton, about 40 miles from Ione.
The receiver’s office recently opened a central hiring unit to fill significant staffing vacancies at several prisons including Mule Creek, Hayhoe said.
Earlier this year, the state opened additional cell houses for nearly 1,600 inmates at Mule Creek as it struggles to keep the prison’s population below the cap set by federal judges. The population cap and the medical inspections both stem from a long-running class-action lawsuit over poor medical care.