Prisoners With AIDS Get Poor Care, State Says

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A legislative report charged Wednesday that four inmates who had AIDS may have died prematurely earlier this year because of inadequate care at the state prison at Vacaville.

The report, prompted by the deaths in August and September, cite conditions that can speed the onset of AIDS-related death, including drafty cellblocks, improper diets, and medical and correctional staff who are not trained to deal with AIDS.

The problems at the California Medical Facility at Vacaville worsened when two doctors quit, warning that the Department of Corrections was not providing enough staff to handle increased numbers of prisoners with AIDS at Vacaville, the report said.

"I want the problem cleaned up," said Assemblyman John Burton (D-San Francisco) who ordered the report. Burton said that Department of Corrections Director James Gomez has agreed to correct the problems.

"I believe he's going to do the right thing," Burton said.

Department of Corrections spokesman Tip Kindel acknowledged that there were problems with the care at Vacaville, but vowed that there will be "some real major improvements" within the next 90 days.

Kindel said the department has been trying to hire three physicians, but finds it "difficult to get doctors to go to work for the state, especially Department of Corrections, because they have to work in a prison."

The problem of AIDS is certain to increase in California's prison system as more inmates become infected. The Department of Corrections is expanding its treatment facilities at Vacaville to include a hospice.

Vacaville has about 355 prisoners with AIDS. The Vacaville prison complex houses 7,000 inmates, 2,800 of them in the medical facility. The state prison at Chino, which also has a hospital, has 180 prisoners with AIDS.

"The fact is that there are going to be deaths," Kindel said, adding that he expects an average of one or two prisoners a week will die of AIDS-related illnesses.

The report focused on four prisoners suffering from AIDS who died. One prisoner died after being put in a high security wing instead of the hospital when he began vomiting blood. Another was not hooked up to a dialysis machine and gained 30 to 40 pounds before dying.

A third was discharged from the prison hospital even though he was throwing up blood and could not stand. The fourth was heard calling for help in the night and his naked body was found on the toilet in his cell the next morning.

The report said the hospital at the prison is overcrowded and that hospital staff at Vacaville does not monitor such life-threatening conditions as rapid weight loss among AIDS patients.

The report also noted that prisoners who have only six months to live are not being released under a program that allows them to leave prison because requests for compassionate release are lost and delayed.

The report said psychiatric care for HIV-infected prisoners apparently is inferior to counseling for other prisoners, and that prisoners suffering from AIDS-caused dementia are not protected from attacks by other inmates.

"One such inmate has been known to walk around eating garbage," the report said.

The report found that soiled sheets from the AIDS wing are combined with other prison laundry and not isolated with other contaminated material.

Inmates complained that new doctors don't check them regularly and lack the expertise to treat many of the conditions caused by the AIDS virus, the report said.

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