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Untreated Dental Infection Kills California Prisoner

A 41 year-old prisoner at the California State Prison (Solano) in Vacaville died six days after having a tooth extracted, when prison medical staff failed to treat his resulting infection.

Anthony Shumake, sentenced to 12 years, 8 months in 2000, had an abscessed tooth pulled on June 22,2004. Unfortunately, an infection set in - so severe that he could not swallow for several days nor eat for six days. Prison doctors did not find that Shumake needed emergency medical care, but they found he did need care that Solano could not provide. By then, Shumake's symptoms were that his neck was swollen and red in color down to his clavicle" and that he was also spitting up gray sputum.

In spite of the fact that the Vacaville area has a prison hospital (California Medical Facility) and area community hospitals, Shumake was finally taken by life-support ambulance - on oxygen - for a two-hour, 76 mile drive to (prison-contracted) Doctor's Hospital in Manteca. One reason that Solano may have avoided using a local hospital is that the prison is currently being sued for $18 million in unpaid hospital bills.

At the hospital, Shumake was given anti-inflammatory medication and antibiotics, but went into full respiratory failure two hours later. The coroner ruled the cause of death was heart failure resulting from the infection. He further ruled the death was accidental, due to complications from therapy," thereby foreclosing any criminal investigation. Although the California Department of Corrections spends 20% of its $6.2 billion budget on medical care, this doesn't necessarily translate into quality of care, State Senator Jackie Speier commented later.

Shumake's lack of follow-up care may have been due to the two-thirds reduction in dental chairs - from six to two - during a construction project, that has lengthened the time for a dental appointment for Solano's 6,000 prisoners to five months. Indeed, the state Inspector General warned in January 2003 that Solano's shortage of dental chairs and treatment may expose the state to possible legal action.

Possibility" became reality on October 4,2004 when Shumake's family filed a wrongful death action in federal court. LaShua Shumake, Anthony's sister, said the suit seeks $10 million in general damages and $50 million in punitive damages. They are represented by Beverly Hills, California attorney Mark Ravis, who has two other wrongful death lawsuits pending in California. Undoubtedly, there will be more lawsuits as people surface," he said. He has already been contacted by families of 75 prisoners and expects 15 of those cases will result in lawsuits. This is a new civil rights movement," he said, because medical care for an inmate is a constitutional right." Indeed, on September 17, 2004, CDC entered into a stipulated injunction to improve its $1 billion health care delivery system.

Anthony's uncle, Rev. Andre Shumake, was notified by telegram of the death and instructed to claim the body within five days or it would be cremated. There has been tremendous negligence," he said. They didn't even .have the decency to knock on the door.

Sources: Sacramento Bee; San Francisco Chronicle; Contra Costa Times; Los Angeles Times.

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