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California County Jail Quietly Settles

Substandard Healthcare Suit For $1.75 Million

Santa Clara County, California has quietly paid a settlement of $1.75 million to settle a federal claim by county jail healthcare workers about being retaliated against and demoted for having complained about substandard healthcare practices they observed in the jails. County officials and the plaintiffs' attorney, James McManis, said they were unable to discuss the case.

When the allegations were made, the county hired an outside expert for $100,000 to review its jail healthcare practices. Not surprisingly, the report was that Santa Clara County's performance compared favorably to that of most other jail systems and to the outside community. County Executive Peter Kutras said that any alleged deficiencies had been fixed, or were deemed unfounded.

Relatives of prisoners who died in the jail understandably did not agree. Raina Benavidez, 49, doing a nine-month probation violation sentence, died on January 21, 2005 of an acute abdominal infection related to liver cirrhosis. Her December 30, 2004 grievance before her death included allegations of being denied visits to a doctor, her daughter, Bena Hatcher, reported. Gilbert Rael, 31, died in April of complications from an infected tooth while incarcerated at the Elmwood Jail.

The instant suit was brought by nurse Mary Ann Save, a former senior health care analyst for Santa Clara County's jails and juvenile detention facilities, and by Dr. Pinto, a jail doctor and formerly the medical director. They alleged that because of a shortage of jail doctors, jail nurses were giving out medication without proper supervision, possibly in violation of the state Nursing Practice Act; that county officials foreclosed a jail dialysis unit so as to set up outside trips that permitted an alleged scheme of illegally billing Medi-Cal for the procedure; that psychiatric ward services were untimely and deficient; and that medical records were in disarray knowingly so, to avoid possible litigation. The suit noted several prisoner deaths around the time of its 2003 filing.

Save, hired in 1999 and named senior health analyst in 2000, was demoted in March, 2003 and her security clearance was revoked. Pinto, hired in 2001, was fired as medical director. Both claimed retaliation for whistle-blowing. County Department of Corrections officials, also named in the suit, called Save's and Pinto's allegations outrageous" and fictitious." But apparently Santa Clara County believed it was worth every penny of the $1.75 million settlement, a record for such suits in the county, to bury the truth. See: Mary Ann Save and Moneesha Pinto, M.D. v. The County of Santa Clara, U.S.D.C. NDCA, Case No. C03-04391-JF.

Source: San Jose Mercury News.

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Related legal case

Mary Ann Save and Moneesha Pinto, M.D. v. The Coun