Los Angeles County is the only county in the state of California that lets its sheriff’s department run the health care system for its county jails.
At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting, all that may change.
Tuesday is the day when the board will entertain a motion—proposed by supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Mike Antonovich—to take away responsibility for inmate medical care from the sheriff’s department, and to also to snatch the oversight of inmate mental health care from the Department of Mental Health. The two functions are then to be consolidated under the Department of Health Services (DHS), and overseen by the newly created position of “Correctional Health Director” within the DHS.
This new configuration for how LA County looks after the medical and mental health needs of its jail inmates is part of a larger plan that will be officially presented by Interim CEO Sachi Hamai. The plan was created in response to a request from the board back in early March, which asked the CEO and representatives of other county officials to take a look at “the status of jail health services in Los Angeles County,” and to make recommendations about how “the overall quality and delivery of the care provided in the County jails..” could be improved.
In other words, the supes had been aware for a while that the medical and mental health care in the jails sucked, but they wanted to know how much it sucked, and what to do about getting it not to suck.
The conclusion reached by the CEO and her fellow evaluators (which included representatives from the LASD) was that both functions needed to be removed post haste from those who’d been running them in the past. (Although the report said this far more politely.)
We have known for some time that the LA County Department of Mental Health (DMH), along with the sheriff’s department, has been doing a frighteningly lousy job of running the mental health part of the medical system inside our county lock-ups.
(For an idea of how lousy, see the federal investigation that resulted in scathing reports and a still looming federal consent decree.)
But while the mental health situation inside the jails—and the need for mental health diversion—has received a lot of public attention, plain old medical services have not.
And, yet, anecdotal information strongly indicates that matters are not healthy on the medical care side of things either.
For instance, a pattern of problems has shown up in the complaints filed with the ACLU, and in accounts by sources who work inside the jail system and who are troubled by what they see. At WLA we’ve also been getting harrowing calls from inmates inside the jail who describe fairly convincingly how they cannot get basic care and/or medication for very real and often serious medical conditions. So they call us in the hope that somehow we can help them get their needs met.
As legal director of the Southern California ACLU, Peter Eliasberg, put it, “We have every reason to believe that the quality of medical care in the jails is abysmal.”
Yet, it turns out that what reportedly amounts to inadequate medical care (or worse) does not come cheap: A budget of $238 million and over 1,700 budgeted personnel are allocated yearly to the Sheriff’s Medical Services Bureau (MSB).
“There are numerous reasons why these changes make sense including a) the obvious unsuitability of a law enforcement agency for the provision of medical care, b) the well-documented and long-standing failures of DMH to provide appropriate care to inmates with mental illness…” Eliasberg wrote on Monday in a letter to the board.
Time for a change. Good for the supes for calling for it. Lets hope they and the DHS and the LASD follow through and insist on—as they say in the movie script business— a Page 1 rewrite.
More on the jail medical care issue as it unfolds.
UPDATE: After lots of commentary from the audience, including people who won Tuesday the motion passed unanimously.
AND WHILE THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT JAILS, HOW MUCH WILL THE LA COUNTY SUPES CONSIDER SCALING DOWN THE MEGA BUCKS JAIL BUILDING PLAN ON TUESDAY?
Likely the presentation that will make the biggest splash at Tuesday’s LA County Board of Supes meeting will be the powerpoint of the retooled jail building proposal that scales down the nearly $2 billion plus Vanir building plan that was approved in May of 2014, before we had a new sheriff.
Among those presenting the plan will be Sheriff Jim McDonnell, Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, Dr. Marvin Southard, of the (possibly soon to be ousted from the jails) Dept. of Mental Health and more.
The group has done some admirable scaling back and rethinking of the number of new beds, (See P. 19 of the report) but will the changes be enough?
Since both Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl talked about their opposition to the existing plan in their campaigns for office, and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained during the Vanir vote, one presumes there will be some hard and lively questions asked.
UPDATE: Rather than accept the new plan put forth by the Sheriff, et al, a three member majority of the board decided to delay the go-ahead on the revised building plan in order to take a long hard look at how large the new jail really needs to be.