Another Jail Inmate Dies
Amsler Photo Courtesy of
Sonoma County Independent
still gonna have jail deaths. I can guarantee it."
Sheriff Jim Piccinini to Board of Supervisors
Phillip Medina dies only hours after being moved from
the jail to Sutter Hospital. When
admitted to the hospital, Medina already had widespread
infection through all body systems and organs were beginning
was carved into the jail's deadly wall of shame when Phillip Medina
died at Sutter Hospital on January 7, 2000. Medina was transferred
to Sutter from the jail, where he had reportedly been sick for
over a week. Though jail officials blame the death on a virulent
strain of flu, hospital records show that by the time Phillip
Medina reached the hospital he was already septic, with generalized
infection throughout his body and organs beginning to fail. We
can't help but wonder if the jail just waited too long to get
action has undoubtedly forced some important changes in the jail
both the assistant sheriff at the helm and the county's
jail medical services contractor have been replaced and California
Medical Association's accreditation revoked. Still, Phillip Medina's
death is a clear message that the changes aren't yet enough, and
in some cases we may even be going backwards. Here's what we mean
Finally bowing to relentless public pressure, the Board of Supervisors
canceled the contract with Correctional Medical Services and on
February 1, 2000 California Forensic Medical Group (CFMG) took
over medical services at the jail. While we can hope that exchanging
one giant, outside corporation for another might make things a
little better, disturbing news from inside and from other communities
that contract with CFMG doesn't bode well.
Signs from CFMG
jail employees report that the first thing CFMG did was to get
rid of family nurse practitioners, the backbone of the jail's
medical delivery system. We have confirmed that several experienced
medical workers have been fired.
When we met
with him last September, supervisor Mike Reilly proudly displayed
a list of bonus incentives (including a $2,000 sign-on bonus)
the county would be offering to try to lure and keep competent
medical staff at the jail. Reilly's hit was that under-staffing
was what had led to the deaths, and that these incentives were
then, that an analysis presented to the Board of Supervisors on
December 1, 1999 showed that CFMG's wage and benefits package
for jail staff, far from making the job more attractive, instead
represented a $3 to $5 per-hour pay cut for full-time staff!
The new contract
decimated employee retirement options, suspended health insurance
for the 3-6 month transition period, and dropped dental, vision
and disability insurance, all previously provided under the CMS
contract. This is only likely to worsen the problem of finding
and keeping competent medical staff, and is sure to result in
more death and suffering for inmates.
And yet another
alarming revelation comes from Mendocino County, where CFMG has
handled jail medical services for some years. In 1997, CFMG sued
activists with the Mendocino-Lake Human Rights Monitoring Project.
In what's called a S.L.A.P.P. suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against
Public Participation), CFMG attempted to intimidate and silence
organizers who had brought the medical complaints of jail inmates
before the county Board of Supervisors -- exactly the same type
of information brought by local activists that forced our supervisors
to can Correctional Medical Services.
these are all things that make CFMG worth watching.
death lawsuits were filed against the county on behalf of the
families of Drue Harris, Carolyn Telzrow, and Joanie Holmes. The
Harris lawsuit was dismissed on a technicality, and the Holmes
suit was settled in 2000 for an undisclosed amount of money. The
Telzrow case is still pending, with a Sonoma County trial likely
later this year.