All he said the jail promised him was, “If you end up going to jail, you can deal with it there.”
Essick said he couldn’t answer Lozano’s issue directly, but said in general, “I would be surprised to hear if an inmate had been in custody for eight months and hadn’t been seen by a doctor for a complaint like this. … If it’s dermatology or oncology like that, we don’t try to pretend – we send it.
“I would expect that on the next available sick call, a nurse would at a minimum meet the inmate, talk to them to see what the complaint is, and schedule a visit from (the medical assistant) or (the doctor).”
Inmate Richard Jump, 57, who has his own medical issues, began helping young people in the prison file complaints about access to care after witnessing the experiences of Gonzalez, Lozano and others.
“I’ve never seen such bad conditions here,” he said. “I came here before this was built – I was in the old prison. It’s just in the last two years that they’ve turned their heads.
Having struggled with drugs his whole life, he went back and forth in prison. During his most recent stint, he suffered from high blood pressure, asthma and chronic pain from a broken back and neck.
Although he regularly sends out requests for help, he said, “Half the time they don’t respond. Everyone you talk to here will tell you it’s not happening – you’ll be seen a month later instead of the week it’s supposed to be.
Others who have since been released also recall experiences of delayed or inadequate care.
Jesus Xavier Carrillo, who was jailed last year for violating probation, said he had a similar experience after his ingrown toenail went untreated and became infected.
What started as a throbbing fingernail quickly became a weeping, swollen sore as he waited for medical staff to come see him, Carrillo said.
He said he was given an antibiotic pill in prison and only prescribed the full round once he went to the emergency room after being sent home in October, more than a year. months after reporting the ingrown toenail to staff.
Essick said he was not aware of any instances where medical calls were not handled promptly and appropriately. He said “once in a blue moon” he received complaints about prison medical care directly from inmates’ families, although he was “not caught up in the concrete decisions”.
“If we have an incident, I am informed,” he said.
Heather Wise, a lawyer who often represents indigent clients in the prison, considers such stories “normal”.
“I saw people stabilized, getting the care they needed, and I also saw clients… who had unresolved medical issues,” Wise said. “There are all kinds of horror stories.”
One client, she said, had a dislocated elbow that went untreated for two months while he was held in jail. It got so bad, she said, that after she was released, the doctor had to open her elbow to fix it.
Another of his incarcerated clients suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He needed a machine to help him breathe, and the prison didn’t provide a clean one and distilled water to put him in.
Wise pointed out that many of those in custody are remanded in custody, meaning they have not been convicted of any crime and are presumed innocent.
Izaak Schwaiger, a civil rights attorney who successfully sued the sheriff’s office for police misconduct, said he received at least 16 credible reports of medical negligence at the jail over the past two years.
The county watchdog received two formal complaints alleging violations of Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office policies regarding medical care in the past year, according to Acting Superintendent Garrick Byers.
County “responsible for their health and well-being”
County Supervisor Susan Gorin, who was closely involved in approving the recent Wellpath contract, said Sonoma County’s problems mirror those nationwide.
“There may be medical negligence, or they may just not have a quick response, which underscores the staffing challenges – and, again, this is a national issue,” she said.
Essick blamed Wellpath more.
“Sonoma County and the county taxpayer are shelling out a substantial amount of money for these medical services, and we’re not getting the promised staff,” he said.
Short of withdrawing the contract with Wellpath altogether, Essick said the sheriff’s office and the county have two options for enforcing the contract’s staffing terms: sue the company or withhold payment. Both, however, require proof of a pattern.