Audit finds most state prisons fail to strictly follow medical policies

An inmate patient lies on a gurney in the Triage and Treatment Area (TTA), San Quentin's emergency room. The two bay treatment area in the Neumiller building serves the institution's more than 5,000 inmates.
An inmate patient lies on a gurney in the Triage and Treatment Area (TTA), San Quentin's emergency room. The two bay treatment area in the Neumiller building serves the institution's more than 5,000 inmates. Courtesy Ray Chavez for the Receiver

California’s Office of Inspector General for prisons has found that the federal receiver in charge of improving medical care for inmates has a ways to go.

An audit of all 33 state prisons released Wednesday found that only 9 of those penitentiaries strictly follow medical policies and procedures to ensure inmates get adequate and timely care.

KPCC's full prison medical coverage, including reports, photos and video is here.

A decade ago one inmate a week died from poor medical care in California prisons. That prompted a federal judge to seize control of that care and appoint an independent receiver to improve it.

California’s Office Of Inspector General for prisons has been keeping tabs on the effort for the last couple of years. The OIG's report says the receiver has yet to achieve a system that ensures that prison medical care meets common standards in every institution.

"We’re talking about massive change for a population of over 150,000 people, 33 very large institutions. So this is quite a big undertaking." says Nancy Kincaid, a spokeswoman for the federal receiver, Clark Kelso. She says the receiver's made plenty of improvements, but severe overcrowding in the prisons impeded that progress.

"You actually then have demand that outstrips your resources. And that’s still what’s going on." Kincaid explains. "So even though we’ve been able to fill vacancies in prisons that had a high rate of vacancies among physicians and nurses, we still have way more patients than we have professionals to be able to see them."

Overcrowding also means there’s not enough staff to deliver inmate’s medications. California’s Inspector General, Bruce Monfross, found that that inmates don’t get all their prescriptions all of the time. In some instances prison staff neglected to give inmates medications to treat tuberculosis. But the Inspector General also found improvements in some prisons and better training of nurses--proof, the report says, that it is possible for the receiver to reach his goal of providing timely and quality medical care in all of California’s prisons.

The OIG has begun a second round of audits. Nancy Kincaid with the federal receiver’s office expects those audits to show better delivery of medication and greater access to doctors.

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