No, not that CHCF

August 6, 2014

Have you heard of the California Health Care Facility? Aside from it sharing an acronym with the California HealthCare Foundation, you may not know much about this almost-purposefully-blandly-named facility. But if you knew more about it, you may develop some strong feelings on the matter.

Some facts.

1. It is a prison facility. It is actually the largest prison medical facility in the nation, with the capacity to house 1,722 prisoners in need of medical and/or mental health treatment. After breaking ground in 2012, the facility began admitting inmates in July of 2013. During the dedication ceremony in June 2013, corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard stated, “We are serious about the health and well-being of the inmates entrusted to us.”

2. It was built to comply with a federal court order to improve health care for inmates to constitutionally acceptable levels. By housing the sickest inmates in one facility, the aim was to save on costs while producing better results for chronically ill patients. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) touted that the facility will create 2,200 permanent jobs, with $1 billion annually in economic benefit to the region.

3. It is severely understaffed. In December 2013, an LA Times investigation found that staffing shortages were so severe that the prison was “in jeopardy of losing its operating licenses. Nevertheless, officials continued to bring more inmates to the facility.” Recently, according to a union representing psychiatric technicians, prison employees were pressured into faking suicide-watch records. Supervisors instructed employees to sign log sheets certifying that they checked on inmates in the mental health crisis unit every 12-15 minutes, even when employees could not do so due to other work that was assigned to them.

4. Within months of opening, an inmate’s calls for help were ignored by nursing staff for over 30 minutes; the inmate died from excessive bleeding. This prompted the training of nurses on the prison’s bedside call system, a basic aspect of medical care.

5. Six months after opening, inmate patient admissions were halted due to negligence, inadequate medical care, and unsanitary conditions that led to a scabies outbreak. A report on the facility, “Achieving a Constitutional Level of Medical Care in California’s Prisons,” found that it was improperly managing its supply chain or keeping up with basic medical supplies; understaffed in key administrative and clinical positions, including psychiatrists; experienced significant glitches in the electronic health record system and warehouse inventory system; and serving food that failed state health inspections. A spokesperson for CDCR said, “It’s not uncommon for new facilities to have stops and starts during the activation process.”

6. Despite federal receiver Kelso’s insistence that a medical officer be in charge of the facility, the CDCR instead appointed Ronald Rackley as warden. During a tour of the facility with the LA Times, Rackley acknowledged he “had no experience with delivering medical care, boasting that he had never been admitted to a hospital.”

7. Previously under the oversight of the CDCR, inmates statewide have received unconstitutional levels of health care due to overcrowding, leading to outbreaks of valley fever causing the death of at least 40 inmates, unauthorized sterilizations of over 150 female inmates, lawsuits for wrongful death and inadequate health care, excessive use of isolation units that have been deemed by Amnesty International to “breach international standards on human treatment,” millions spent on salaries of physicians accused of malpractice, tens of millions in waste and “unnecessary work” due to poor departmental coordination, and use of excessive force against mentally ill inmates in violation of their constitutional rights.

8. As of July 21, 2014, the California Health Care Facility has resumed admissions. The complex has the capacity to house and treat 2,951 inmates. It is currently 50.3% occupied, with 1,483 inmate-patients and inmate workers being housed at the facility.

To read more about this topic, please refer to our timeline of prison health care. You will, however, need a healthy supply of adorable animal videos to recuperate.