Are prison hospitals safe?

Prisons throughout the United States may not be providing adequate medical care for inmates. Even though regulators try to implement oversight designed to improve the care at prisons, a lot of prison medical centers do not offer adequate care -- and as a result of negligence and medical malpractice -- prisoners are at a higher risk of injury and death.

An example of the problem was brought to light in a recent Washington Times article that featured information about a California prison medical center that did not pass seven of the 14 primary standards used to evaluate the quality of the care it gives. The full service facility provides both psychiatric and medical care to over 2,500 inmates. It also provides hospice care.

One of the biggest problems at the medical facility relates to on-call doctors who make over the phone decisions after hours when in person doctors aren't available. According to recent evaluations, the on-call doctors did not always make accurate assessments via the telephone, and this increased the chance of medical harm and death.

In one case, a doctor did not discover that a patient was dealing with a chronic lung disease and pneumonia at the same time. As such, the on-call physician failed to offer a face-to-face evaluation, failed to prescribe antibiotics and failed to order a chest x-ray. The physician also failed to order another doctor to evaluate the patient. Sadly, the inmate in question passed away three days later. The cause of death was respiratory failure.

Similar incidents have happened in Washington and other areas of the country. Prison inmates who do not receive adequate medical care like this and suffer injury as a result may have viable personal injury cases to seek financial restitution in court for medical malpractice. In addition, Washington families who suspect that their loved ones died in a prison hospital due to negligence may be able to pursue wrongful death claims.

Source: Washington Times, "Review: California prison medical center still inadequate," Don Thompson, Sep. 19, 2016

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