San Quentin State Prison gets new hospital

January 29, 2010 6:54:36 PM PST
Health care reform has come to one place in the Bay Area, but not everyone can get it. Prisoners at San Quentin State Prison have a new hospital.

Everyone agrees San Quentin is overcrowded. It is supposed to house 3,300 prisoners; today there are nearly 5,000.

For years the old hospital and the clinics have failed to meet the needs of the prison population. In fact, the federal courts deemed the conditions there deplorable.

"There were converted cells, there were converted offices, there was sewage leaking from the ceilings, no hand washing facilities, it was just totally unacceptable," Health Care in Prisons CEO Jackie Clark said.

But this month San Quentin opened a new hospital with 50 beds. Prisoners will go there to receive medical, dental and mental health care.

"There is a general surgeon that will consult on patients here, although he cannot do the surgeries here; podiatry comes, ophthalmology comes here, they're wonderful, orthopedics comes here, they have a busy practice here as well," Dr. Maggie Jones said.

The hospital opened at a cost of $136 million after a federal judge in 2005 ordered California to upgrade its prison hospital system.

There are 14 doctors and 100 nurses at the facility.

A few of the prisoners will remain there until they die.

"Because they really need daily nursing care and we can't do it in their housing units," Dr. Elena Tootell, the chief medical officer on site, said.

San Quentin is the first prison in California to have a new health care facility. Because of the court order, the remaining 32 institutions must also improve their health care services, a challenge given California's current economic crisis.