Health

Monday, Jun 24 2013 06:30 PM

Judge orders some inmates at high risk of valley fever out of two prisons

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Terry Oubsuntia, microbiology specialist, labels valley fever test trays in a laboratory at the Kern County Public Health Services Department in this file photo.

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By THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN

The federal judge who has been at odds with California over its soaring prison population on Monday ordered the state to transfer some prisoners at high risk of developing valley fever out of Pleasant Valley and Avenal state prisons within 90 days.

The order from U.S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson also commanded all the medical and nursing staff of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to have "additional training in the recognition, diagnosis, and treatment" of valley fever, a fungal disease also also known as coccidioidomycosis.

There was no immediate response from the administration of Governor Jerry Brown but Brown has been appealing recent prison rulings to higher courts.

The state in the past has said that difficulties in obeying such an order would include the logistics of moving high risk prisoners to other venues.

In his order filed in United States District Court for the Northern District of California, Henderson wrote that the state acknowledged the serious risk valley fever posed to inmates but did not propose taking "further action" until recommendations are delivered by the Centers for Disease Control and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in coming months.

"All medical experts who have presented testimony in this case, including the State's own epidemiologist, agree that this response is insufficient, both because further delay would be unreasonable and because environmental evaluations are unlikely to have any short-term effect, assuming that the agencies' recommendations are even implemented," Henderson wrote.

The judge also noted that the state agreed to transfer and exclude inmates with certain medical criteria indicating a high risk for cocci, but was unwilling to exclude other inmates who are also at increased risk of serious cases of valley fever, the judge noted.

"Defendants have therefore clearly demonstrated their unwillingness to respond adequately to the health care needs of California's inmate population, which is particularly ironic given Defendants' insistence in other court filings that they are now providing a constitutional level of care," the judge wrote.

The judge's order excludes inmates already diagnosed with valley fever. Henderson directed the receiver to ask the CDC to determine if prisoners older than 55 should also be kept out of the prisons and if there are any groups at risk according to American Thoracic Society criteria that do not need to be excluded from the prisons.

Henderson heard arguments on the matter last week from attorneys the Prison Law Office and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Earlier this year, medical receiver J. Clark Kelso issued a directive ordering inmates more likely to develop severe valley fever and die from the disease, including African Americans, Filipinos, inmates older than 55 and inmates with diabetes, HIV or suppressed immune systems to be expelled from the two state prisons.

 

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