In July 2013, at a cost of $840 million, the California Health Care Facility (CHCF) opened its doors for the purpose of providing care for over 1,800 prisoners. Less than a year later, in February 2014, a court-appointed overseer halted admissions citing unsanitary conditions and deficient medical care.
The facility was supposed to be a major solution to the woes that have kept the state’s prison system under federal oversight for more than a decade. Instead, CHCF deficiencies have been so great it required oversight as well.
A report submitted by court-appointed medical receiver J. Clark Kelso said that patients were found with catheter leaks, diaper leaks, scabies, open wounds, and swollen or cracked feet. One patient noted in the report attempted unsuccessfully to call nurses for thirty minutes before he eventually died from excessive bleeding.
Rebekah Evenson, an attorney for the prison, said, “This place was supposed to fix a lot of what was wrong. But they not only were not providing care, but towels or soap or shoes.”
According to the report the facility failed to keep sufficient amounts of medical supplies, was understaffed in key administrative areas, experienced “glitches” in its health record and warehouse inventory systems, and was serving food that failed to pass state health inspections.
Evenson said, “We are glad to see that they have stopped admitting patients. The prison is experiencing serious system problems that are putting hundreds, if not thousands, of prisoners at serious risk of harm.”
In March 2014, Kelso told the state legislature that CHCF had failed to fix “really basic systems” in its operations.
California Correctional Health Care Services titled its last Tri-Annual Report for 2013 Achieving a Constitutional Level of Medical Care in California’s Prisons. A self-assessment paragraph in the general summary admits to a long list of problems with the hospital. The most telltale sentence describes it this way:
“Perhaps the most persistent, fundamental failure has been the inability to provide basic medical and personal hygiene supplies to the housing units, what appears to be a complete breakdown in the supply chain system, and a slow initial response to that problem.”
The first four chapters of the report attempt to soften the most egregious deficiencies with outdated data about proposed goals to be met prior to the facility’s opening. Chapter 5 addressed a court-ordered response to the specific problems that led to CHCF’s closure.
Interestingly, one of the suggestions made by CHCF was for the California DOC to implement a “new parole process for elderly patient-inmates who have served at least 25 years in state prison….[and] appointment of a ‘compliance officer’ empowered to order necessary releases.”
The report also recommended an investment of over $200 million in “recidivism reduction efforts” and “felony diversion programs” with a cap of 8,900 on out-of-state placements.
Sources: California Correctional Health Care Services, California Healthline Daily Edition
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