Medical care at California State Prison, Corcoran received a poor rating in a recently published state watchdog review. Now, prison advocates worry that doesn’t bode well for the quality of care during the pandemic.
Corcoran’s medical care received a rating of "Inadequate," the lowest rating possible, in a report published in April by the state Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The OIG is an independent government agency that monitors health care, employee conduct, and other operations within the state’s prisons.
The report gave the lowest grades to the facility’s diagnostic and preventive services, nursing and provider performance, and compliance with a variety of health care policies. “To see that things had really not gone well, that in particular what they found were problems with nursing and provider performance…that’s very troubling,” says Alison Hardy, an attorney with the non-profit Prison Law Office who’s been tracking health care at Corcoran and other state prisons for years.
Although the report was published in April, the inspections took place in late 2019 and early 2020, which has left Hardy especially concerned about the quality of medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Provider and nursing care were absolutely critical to keeping people alive, so going in at a deficit is alarming,” she says.
In 2006, in response to a class action lawsuit, a judge transferred oversight of health care within all of California’s prisons to a federal receiver after determining that the quality of care had been so poor that it violated inmates’ civil rights. In 2018, medical care at Corcoran was delegated back to the state. “We opposed that on a number of bases including on continuity of care and staffing issues,” says Hardy, whose organization typically conducts its own inspection of Corcoran once a year but has been barred from in-person visits in the last year due to pandemic restrictions.
The recent OIG report is the first to provide an overall review of the facility’s health care services since its return to state oversight, but the agency has also weighed in on at least some of the prison’s pandemic care. In a report published in February, the agency deemed the inadvertent transfer of COVID-positive inmates to both Corcoran and San Quentin State Prison a “public health disaster.” At San Quentin, the transfer sparked the deadliest outbreak of all of California’s prisons, infecting more than 2,200 inmates and killing 28, while at Corcoran, 1,076 have since contracted the virus and four have died.
Although the report blamed the botched transfer on the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and its partner agency, California Correctional Health Care Services (CCHCS), it also called out failures at both prisons to contain the outbreak. “When staff became aware of the positive test results shortly after the incarcerated persons arrived, both prisons failed to properly conduct contact tracing investigations,” the report reads. “By failing to thoroughly conduct contact tracing, the prisons may have failed to alert some close contacts of the infected individuals, increasing the risk of further spread of the virus.”
In a statement, a CDCR spokesperson says the agency appreciates the findings of the April OIG report. According to the statement, CDCR and CCHCS “are currently reviewing the report and working with the institution to ensure we are providing adequate care not only at California State Prison, Corcoran, but all of our prisons statewide.”