As Alameda County’s jail system faces persistent allegations of poor medical care, the workers who provide its healthcare are facing layoffs following the recent closure of Oakland’s Glenn Dyer Jail, according to a copy of an agreement between the jail’s union and its medical provider.
In a cost-cutting move, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office closed the Oakland jail on June 1. Although the facility’s total capacity was 834, the sheriff’s office has housed only about 400 inmates there this year. Those inmates were transferred to the much larger Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.
But despite no reduction in inmates, medical staff are being asked to volunteer for layoffs or to reduce their hours in the consolidation, according to the memorandum, which was obtained by the East Bay Express. Wellpath, the jail’s private healthcare provider, is seeking to reduce its staff by the equivalent of 3.6 full-time employees, laying off or cutting hours for medical assistants, dental assistants, nurse practitioners, and medical records clerks.
The cutbacks come amid longstanding concerns about the quality of the facility’s medical care. Since Wellpath’s precursor took over the jail on Oct. 1, 2016, 17 people have died in sheriff’s custody, including three this year and two over the span of a week in May. That includes at least five suicides and two drug overdoses. The cause of death of the two people who died in May has not been determined. A class-action lawsuit has alleged a pattern of poor care for women inmates in particular, describing a filthy infirmary and denial of necessary care.
Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern told the San Francisco Chronicle in April that the jail consolidation would save $6 million in overtime costs by combining kitchen and medical staffs. But Ahern vowed that there would be no layoffs stemming from the changes.
Asked recently to clarify, sheriff’s spokesperson Sgt. Ray Kelly said that Ahern was only referring to Alameda County Sheriff’s personnel, not those of its private healthcare provider.
“Our medical provider is a contractor so we have no control over how they manage their personnel,” Kelly said.
According to the memorandum, which was negotiated with the National Union of Healthcare Workers, employees were asked on June 10 to volunteer for layoffs or a reduction in hours and given one week to respond. After that, the company and union would negotiate which employees would receive involuntary layoffs or reduction in hours based on seniority.
Any employees laid off will receive a week’s severance for every year they worked at the jail. Officials with the company and union did not respond to requests for comment.
The jail’s medical provider, Wellpath, was created last year through a merger of Correct Care Solutions and Correctional Medical Group Companies, the latter of which was founded as California Forensic Medical Group in 1983. Alameda County selected CFMG as its medical provider in 2016 after costly lawsuits involving its previous provider, Corizon Health Inc., including a record $8.3 million settlement for the in-custody death of Martin Harrison.
When the county put the jail’s healthcare contract up for bid, it received three proposals: from Corizon, Correct Care Solutions, and California Forensic Medical Group. The latter two then merged to form Wellpath.
Allegations of poor healthcare in the jail persist. By the time it was selected, CFMG had settled a class-action lawsuit in Monterey County requiring sweeping improvements to the jail’s medical system. The Sacramento Bee reported in 2015 that California jails contracting with CFMG had a rate of suicides and drug overdoses 50 percent higher than those of other county jails in the state.
The family of one inmate who killed himself in the jail last year, Logan Masterson, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit this year, in part alleging that CFMG did not adequately evaluate him for mental illness. Jail staff placed him in a “safety cell,” a cell with nothing but a metal grate on the floor to use as a toilet, and did not check on him adequately.
Last year, a group of women filed a class-action lawsuit against the sheriff’s office and the jail’s medical provider, alleging that health care in Santa Rita is “grossly inadequate” and the infirmary is “filthy.” According to the lawsuit, one woman with an abnormal heart valve was not given any treatment and did not see a doctor for months. Another woman who was working waxing the floors slipped and hit her head and the next day could not get out of bed. She received no medical examination and CFMG staff only gave her ibuprofen, according to the suit.
The lawsuit alleges that many of the issues stem from having a for-profit medical provider with a contract that rewards it financially for denying medical care. CFMG itself must pay all costs of any outpatient medical services incurred, which motivates the company to limit all care to the jail whenever possible. One woman alleges that she gave birth alone in an isolation cell after deputies and medical staff refused to take her to a hospital when she experienced abdominal pain.
The suit alleges that the CFMG’s “atrocious treatment” of the woman, Candace Steel, “was motivated by greed and inflicted… for the sole purpose of pursing profit at the expense and by the suffering of wards of the state.”
Yolanda Huang, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said, “The standard of medical care for prisoners is very low. What is more concerning is that the very set up of the institutions; such as very cheap, poor-quality foods; the denial of adequate sleep (only six hours a night), and for women very limited access to the outdoors, all contribute to development of chronic diseases (diabetes, hyper tension, etc.), which will eventually become costs society as a whole has to shoulder.”
The sheriff’s office has denied that there is any problem with medical care in the jail. Sheriff’s officials have acknowledged that Steel gave birth in the jail but said that she was not alone and was attended by medical staff.
Lawsuits related to the jail have already been costly for Alameda County. An Express investigation last year found that from 2015-2017, Alameda County paid more in civil rights lawsuits than any other agency in the region, including paying $5.4 million in settlements for conditions in the jail.
Most of the lawsuits relate to the larger Santa Rita jail. But just three days before Glenn Dyer was closed, civil rights attorney Glenn Katon filed a lawsuit alleging excessive force at that jail. Inmate Curtis Crenshaw alleges that he was the target of a harassment campaign by Deputy Ronald Broach, who told inmates, “you’re under my control” and “I can do whatever I want.”
The lawsuit alleges that Broach was transferred to Glenn Dyer because of the number of complaints against him at Santa Rita. At one point last year, the lawsuit alleges that Broach threw Crenshaw’s possessions all over the floor, poured water on them, and then beat him with the help of another deputy, David Ronquillo.
Glenn Dyer may be closed, but it could still cost the county.