Coalinga State Hospital

Last year, 30 patients died at Coalinga State Hospital, a psychiatric facility in western Fresno County. That's more than 2 percent of the population--a death rate that's almost twice the average of California’s entire state hospital system, and almost seven times higher than the rate within the state prison system. 

Recently, we investigated why, and whether any of those deaths could have been prevented.

Department of State Hospitals

Earlier this year, Jeff Gambord realized he couldn’t remember the last time he had a physical exam. So he requested his medical record from Coalinga State Hospital, the psychiatric facility where he’s been a patient since 2006.

Gambord learned it’d been more than a year, and he was curious if this was common—so he encouraged others to request their records, too. “When we went back and looked up a couple other patients on this unit, some go back as far as two or three years as not having received exams,” he said.

 

Department of State Hospitals

In the months since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has taken a tremendous toll on hospitals, where bedspace is at a minimum and staff are overworked, and prisons, where tight living quarters and mixed enforcement of safety precautions

 

On this week's Valley Edition: A street medicine team in Bakersfield educates people experiencing homelessness about COVID-19, and debunks myths about the vaccine. 

 

Plus, writer Mark Arax tells us about his research into the history of the Confederacy in the Central Valley.

 

Department of State Hospitals

In late December, Clementine Sanders called her son at Coalinga State Hospital to make sure he had received her Christmas card. That’s when his bunkmates informed her that her son, 58-year-old Shannon Starr, had died three weeks earlier. “I was just totally shocked,” she says. “Nobody called me.”

Since then, she says, none of her messages to staff or reception have been returned. “I still wasn’t notified and I still haven’t heard from the [hospital],” she says.

 

In the last two weeks, 48 people at the Coalinga State Hospital have contracted Covid-19, according to the Department of State Hospitals. Some patients without legal documentation are asking the state to allow ICE to deport them because they don’t want to get the virus.

Andrew Warren, 52, a Vietnamese citizen and resident at the civil confinement facility, says he’s afraid he’ll die at the state hospital due to unsafe practices among the staff that put him at a higher risk of contracting the virus.

Residents at Coalinga State Hospital are blaming staff members for infecting patients as reports of COVID-19 related deaths are increasing at the facility. 

 

“It’s like they're putting us in a tunnel, pouring gasoline down the tunnel and lighting a match,” resident James Hydrick said.

 

 In the past week alone, Hydrick said he’s seen nearly 10 ambulances leave with COVID positive patients in critical condition. And he said it’s due in part to staff floating between quarantine and non-quarantine units.