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Madera supervisors vote to increase jail budget by $1 million over nursing needs

Barbed wire
Eric Mclean

MADERA, Calif. – The Madera County Board of Supervisors approved $1.1 million this week to add nursing support at the Madera County Jail.

The jail is currently staffed with one registered nurse around the clock - and that nurse oversees medical care for the jail’s general population.

Jail Cpt. Chris Rodriguez addressed supervisors during the Tuesday meeting about the need to increase medical staff.

“We want registered nurses to triage and screen all of our [inmates]. Currently, we have correctional officers [and] correctional deputies working that process and that opens up a lot of liability,” Rodriguez said.

The new approved funding is expected to allow California Forensic Medical Group Inc. – the county’s contracted medical provider also known as Wellpath – to add another nurse to the jails’ booking area.

Without one in place, correctional officers typically perform the initial screening at jail.

Cpt. Chris Rodriguez of the Madera County Sheriff's Office Jail Division addresses county supervisors on May 2, 2023.
Cpt. Chris Rodriguez of the Madera County Sheriff's Office Jail Division addresses county supervisors on May 2, 2023.

The increase in funding includes a built-in yearly contract increase of three to four percent for the medical provider, plus an additional $900,000 this year to cover the added nursing staff.

Madera County Supervisor Jordan Wamhoff said he was “astonished” that officers were taking part in the screenings, and expressed concern about legal liability for the county.

“If there's an in-custody death inside the jail, when someone really should have been going to the hospital, that's where the liability lies with the county if we accept these people with conditions that we don't know about or we're not medically equipped to know about,” Wamhoff said.

In a conversation with KVPR, Rodriguez said it’s a normal procedure for correctional officers to do the initial screening in the booking area and has always been in place at the jail.

If an incoming inmate needs medical attention, the only registered nurse on staff is called to determine whether that person needs to be transferred to a hospital.

But Rodriguez said a recent increase in the number of inmates began to put a strain on the only registered nurse.

Rodriguez also said the closure of Madera Community Hospital has complicated that process of hospital transfers.

Inmates who need hospital attention must now travel to the nearest hospitals in Fresno and Merced. He said that ties up law enforcement officers who must make the round trip, leaving their patrol areas unattended.

“I can tell you in the last six months, we've had an increase of inmates going out to the hospital. So it's important to have the appropriate medical staff on a site screening these folks before we accept them,” Rodriguez told supervisors.

Since January, 57 inmates have been transferred to a hospital for medical attention. Thirty inmates were turned away from the jail and sent to a hospital, and 27 in-custody inmates were sent out for further medical attention.

Soreath Hok is a multimedia journalist with experience in radio, television and digital production. She is a 2022 National Edward R. Murrow Award winner. At KVPR she covers local government, politics and other local news.