Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Washington Prison Doctor Has License Suspended, Again

In October, 1994, the Washington State Medial Quality Assurance Commission began an investigation into the qualifications of Dr. Thomas McDonnell, the supervising physician at the Washington Corrections Center (WCC) in Shelton, WA. The investigation began after the Commission received two anonymous complaints. On April 8, 1996, the commission suspended McDonnell's medical license, finding he had exposed prisoners and employees at WCC to "an unreasonable risk of harm" due to poor quality of care, misdiagnosis or failure to supervise care. "The commission determined that an immediate suspension was necessary to prevent the likelihood of harming patients," commission officials said.

In suspending his license, the commission cited the cases of seven prisoners where McDonnell acted, or failed to act, in a way that caused the prisoners to be hospitalized. One patient was given such large quantities of drugs by McDonnell after a dental procedure that he stopped breathing twice. He was resuscitated and transferred to an Olympia hospital.

In another case a prisoner reported to the infirmary with symptoms of blurred vision, increased urination, thirst, weakness and headaches. A physician assistant (PA) examined the prisoner and noted symptoms for diabetes even though the prisoner was taking medication for high blood pressure. McDonnell was told of the prisoner's condition and, without examining him, began insulin treatment, despite the PA saying he had no experience treating diabetes. McDonnell went home and did not monitor the patient's condition. The prisoner went into spasms and had severe abdominal pain as his kidney functions collapsed. The prisoner was transferred to a hospital and upon returning to prison McDonnell did not examine him. The commission concluded that a reasonable physician would not have relied on a PA to examine, treat and diagnose such a patient.

Another prisoner showed signs of respiratory failure after McDonnell prescribed medication, again without examining the patient. The prisoner suffered a seizure en route to the hospital. The commission scheduled a hearing for McDonnell on April 29, 1996.

This is not the first time McDonnell has had a brush with the medical regulatory establishment. McDonnell, who is paid $80,000 a year by the DOC, had his license suspended in 1986 after he admitted abusing controlled substances during and after office hours. He also admitted fraudulently using his position to obtain large quantities of controlled substances. The DOC hired McDonnell in 1993 after he completed substance abuse treatment and regained his medical license. DOC spin doctor Veltry Johnson told reporters he did not know when the DOC first became aware of allegations of poor quality medical care. One would think it would have begun with the first patient to be hospitalized.

That the DOC would hire a drug addict as its chief medical doctor should come as no surprise. The medical care for Washington state prisoners is disastrous. Consider:

The chief psychiatrist at McNeil Island, James McGuire, is a sex offender still in therapy whose license is suspended for all forms of psychiatric practice except for prisoners. [See Nov, 1995 PLN for more details.]

In December, 1994, Washington State Reformatory prisoner Stanley Watson was killed by incompetent medical staff after seeking medical care for a heart attack. Despite complaining of classical heart attack symptoms Watson was given some pills and told to return to his cell. Twelve hours later he was dead. [See, Nov, 1995 PLN.]

On May 16, 1994, Washington Correction Center for Women (WCCW) prisoner Gertrude Barrow died of a perforated ulcer after repeatedly seeking medical care. Indeed, hours before her death Barrow was being told to clean up her own vomit by WCCW medical staff. [See July and Oct. 1994, PLN.]

In November, 1994, the DOC settled Hallett v. Payne, a class action suit complaining of woefully inadequate and unconstitutional medical care at WCCW. Part of the agreement was to require the DOC to provide qualified health care providers, among many others. [See April, 1995, PLN.] The legislature appropriated $2.1 million in its 1995-97 budget in order to comply with the settlement and upgrade medical care at WCCW. [See Nov. 1995, PLN.]

The Washington DOC has begun charging Washington prisoners at least $3 each time they seek medical care or treatment. That such "treatment" is being provided by drug addicts, sex offenders and assorted incompetents seems to be of little consequence to lawmakers despite the fact that these people are being paid salaries like McDonnell's in the $80,000 range. Can't a "real" doctor without a drug or sex problem be hired for that amount? In legislative posturing political hacks have whined about prisoners getting 'free health care." Given the choice, few prisoners would willingly seek treatment from people like McGuire, McDonnell, the people who murdered Barrow and Watson, etc. Yet the fact of incarceration deprives prisoners of that choice. The result is medical genocide at $3 a pop.

Washington prisoners who have received inadequate medical care should send documented complaints (attach affidavits from yourself, witnesses, supporting documents, etc.) to: Medical Quality Assurance Commission, Department of Health, P.O. Bo 47886, Olympia, WA. 98504-7866. Prisoners in other states should similarly contact their state Department of Health or medical licensing authority with documented complaints.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login