Prison hospitals in California are so bad that officials are urging either a court takeover of the prison health care system or handing over the system to private practice because of the deplorable state of prison hospitals. With bad doctors and wretched facilities as the norm, some officials have compared California prison hospitals to the Third World.
San Quentin was singled out particularly for its singularly abysmal prison hospital. The area is filthy, HIV patients are not tracked, there is no privacy for examinations and one examination room can only be accessed through a shower. The situation has gotten so bad that corrections officials have simply given up hope on ever reforming the prison hospitals.
In a startling admission of failure, corrections officials said yesterday that they have all but abandoned hope of providing adequate health care in state prisons on their own and conceded that they will either have to rely on private managed care companies or allow a federal court to take over the vast system.
One witness after another at a state Senate hearing offered scathing testimony on deplorable health care facilities, incompetent doctors, deaths of inmates due to medical negligence, and bureaucratic red tape.
"We are in a crisis," said Donald Specter, director of the Prison Law Office, a prison advocacy group that won a court-ordered settlement three years ago requiring major improvements in the health care system.
Specter said that at a meeting Wednesday, the federal district court judge overseeing his settlement, Thelton Henderson, had discussed appointing a receiver to seize control of the system as perhaps the only way of preventing inmates' constitutional rights from being violated by poor health care.
He disclosed during the hearing that the state has just this week signed a contract with a private company that will design a new contracting system and solicit bids from managed care providers.
It is hoped, Carruth said, that the state will hand over health care at the state's 32 prisons to outside managed care providers within about 18 months.
A report to the federal court last month on San Quentin prison said that, in part because it is holding twice as many inmates as it was designed for, the health care
facilities there "pose a risk of imminent harm and death to patients."
Another report on San Quentin is particularly disturbing, the doctors who compiled it said.
"We found overall compliance with the Stipulated Order and subsequent Court Orders was nonexistent," it said.
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