O.C. Grand Jury, sheriff spar over health screenings for jail inmates
SANTA ANA — The Orange County Grand Jury issued a report Tuesday, June 4, faulting the Sheriff’s Department for not taking vital signs of every inmate admitted to its jails to reduce deaths related to hypertension, but Sheriff Don Barnes fired back, saying that’s not his job.
The grand jury report noted 28 custodial deaths from Jan. 23, 2016, through May 2, 2018, with 15 inmates showing evidence of prior cardiovascular history.
“The current standard of medical care throughout the country includes measurement of vital signs every time an individual is seen at a doctor’s office, in a clinic or hospital,” the report says. “Not all inmates being booked into jail in Orange County have this simple test performed. The simple taking of vital signs within the first 48 hours on all the inmates being booked into the Orange County Jail could advance the diagnosis and treatment of what is acknowledged to be the leading cause of death in the United States.”
The grand jury observed that the intake center for inmates is a “high traffic area, averaging 150 inmates per day.”
The inmates are “screened two at a time with no privacy,” the grand jury report says. “The Orange County Sheriff’s Department and Correctional Health Services have been discussing improvements in this area. These include allowing for three screenings at a time, increasing inmate privacy, and improving safety for the nurses while allowing better access to the inmates. The Orange County Grand Jury recommends the Orange County Sheriff’s Department move forward with completing this much-needed update.”
Inmates are checked for vital signs if there’s a medical history of cardiovascular disease or if the prior jail medical history indicates it, according to the grand jury.
Checking vital signs for hypertension could end up saving taxpayers from paying “to send inmates to an outside hospital for treatment while at the same time providing potential savings by reducing prospective civil litigation,” the panel’s report says.
In a prepared statement, Barnes said he disagreed with the grand jury report, and said it “does not accurately portray the level of healthcare provided” to the county’s jail inmates.
“While (the sheriff’s department) does not provide inmate medical care, we believe the Correctional Health Services staff from the OC Health Care Agency do a great job,” Barnes said.
“Intake and triage at the jail is not meant to diagnose and prescribe treatments,” the sheriff added. “During the intake process, inmates are triaged by Correctional Health staff for issues that would restrict their ability to receive medical care at the jail if their needs are acute or exceed the services available.
“Inmates are not coming to jail for medical treatment, they are coming because they broke the law. While many inmates require medical care in custody, the jail is not a medical facility. Inmates requiring moderate to severe medical care are sent to the hospital to receive advanced treatment.”