Suit Forces Better Care of Pregnant Prisoners

Times Staff Writer

Guidelines to provide better medical care for pregnant women and new mothers in the California Institution for Women at Frontera have been laid down in the settlement of a class-action suit approved Monday by a Los Angeles federal judge.

San Francisco attorney Meryl Macklin, of the law firm that filed the suit in conjunction with the San Francisco-based Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, said the settlement calls for every pregnant and new-mother prisoner to be seen regularly by a team including a gynecologist and nurse practitioners.

The suit, filed in September, 1985, complained that there was no gynecologist at Frontera. A prison official said then that inmates were taken to Riverside General Hospital for obstetric and gynecological care.


Outside Gynecologist

For the past year, Macklin said, an outside gynecologist has been visiting Frontera for four hours a week.

State Department of Corrections spokesman Robert Gore said the prison has been complying with terms of the settlement--which was actually reached in November--since Jan. 1. He said a permanent gynecologist has been hired, “but we will be filling the position with contract people until the permanent person arrives.”

Gore said the settlement means basically that care in the women’s prison will follow guidelines set down by the American Colleges of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Final approval was given Monday by U.S. District Judge John G. Davies.

In the suit, seven inmates charged that inadequate medical care endangered pregnant women as well as newborn or unborn babies.

Stillborn Baby

One of the plaintiffs, Brenda Jackson, said that when she was five months pregnant she was not allowed to see an obstetrician for a month, although she was bleeding heavily. When she finally was seen, she said, the doctor found that the placenta had separated from the uterine wall. Her baby was stillborn a month later.

Another inmate, Linda Hampton, complained that she was already in advanced labor when she was taken to a hospital in a security van, strapped to a bench. She said her baby suffered oxygen loss during delivery and apparently will be slightly disabled.

Another plaintiff, Marla Klemmer, claimed that she had a uterine problem that was not diagnosed until three months after she gave birth. She said doctors subjected her to a hysterectomy that would not have been necessary had she received proper attention.

The suit charged that Frontera’s 1,850 prisoners were being “deprived of adequate prenatal and postpartum medical care,” resulting in infant deaths, stillbirths, miscarriages and unnecessary hysterectomies.

The suit named as defendants Daniel J. McCarthy, director of corrections; Annie Alexander, superintendent of the Frontera facility, and Dr. K. K. Srivastava, the prison’s chief medical officer.

Dr. Nadim Khoury, chief of health services for the Department of Corrections, said at the time the suit was filed: “I believe that the prenatal care delivered at (the prison) is the standard delivered in the community outside. I am satisfied that in all the cases (listed in the suit) the proper treatment and prenatal care was given.”