UC Davis Med pulls mental health residents over COVID-19 concerns
UC Davis Medical Center pulled its psychiatry residents from the Sacramento County Main Jail on Thursday due to correctional officers not wearing masks to stem the spread of COVID-19, SN&R has learned.
SN&R obtained an internal email from the UC Davis Health Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences informing its medical trainees of the move.
The email was sent 11 a.m. Thursday “On behalf of Alan Koike,” a doctor and professor of psychiatry at the teaching hospital. “We will not resume learners at this site until this matter is address [sic] by corrections,” the email states.
UC Davis Health’s public affairs office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. At 8:51 p.m. Thursday, UC Davis Health senior public information officer Edwin Garcia released the following statement:
Yesterday, the UC Davis Health Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences decided to suspend activities for two trainees at the Sacramento County Main Jail out of an abundance of concern for their health and safety. While it is important for students to learn, these students do not have essential roles in patient care at the jail and therefore can be reassigned to other locations to continue their training. The Department will continue to communicate with jail authorities and will evaluate when it is an appropriate time for trainees to return.
In the meantime, we are still providing full levels of patient care. Our attending providers and physicians with the psychiatry fellowship training program continue to work in the jail and serve patients’ needs. The residents and medical students have already been assigned to other clinical sites for the month of July, so they can continue their ongoing training and education.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide order two weeks ago requiring people to wear face coverings in most public indoor situations.
The rift comes between the jail and one of its biggest health care contractors. As recently as 2018, the county had a $12.5 million contract with UC Davis Medical Center to provide mental health services at the Main Jail in downtown Sacramento. The one-year contract increased nearly $1 million from the year before.
“The Jail Psychiatric Services contract with UCD provides mental health services including assessment, treatment, medication and crisis intervention for inmates,” a county budget document from June 2018 states. “In addition to outpatient services, UCD operates an 18 bed locked in-patient psychiatric unit at the Main Jail.”
More recent contracts were unavailable on the county’s website.
The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office runs the jail and is responsible for providing health care to inmates through its Correctional Health Services division. Even with the devastating economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors is being asked to appropriate $553 million to the Sheriff’s Office, which includes $65 million for Correctional Health Services.
The county has been secretive about the reach of COVID-19 behind bars, refusing to put those figures on its online dashboard that tracks infections and deaths from the respiratory illness. Five inmates had tested positive for the virus as of June 19, The Sacramento Bee reported. County representatives referred comment to a sheriff’s spokesperson, who didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking updated figures.
UCD Medical Center isn’t the only entity that’s expressed concern with county officials’ treatment of the pandemic behind bars.
The jail has been under a consent decree to drastically improve conditions for inmates with psychiatric and physical disabilities since inmate rights’ attorneys and the county settled the class action lawsuit last year. The coronavirus outbreak has complicated the ability to enforce that settlement and, in some ways, actually made conditions worse.
Disability Rights California, one of the organizations that represented inmates, notified defendants of “the failure to require custody staff to wear face coverings in the Jail facilities” on May 27, a joint status report states.
Disability Rights California also alleged the jail was denying showers and access to phones to inmates who were quarantined after intake or because they’d been possibly exposed to COVID-19.
“This was a big issue that we very nearly went to court about,” Aaron Fischer, lead counsel for DRC, said in an email Thursday.
Fischer said plaintiffs reached a settlement with the Sheriff’s Office only a few days earlier, avoiding the need to file a motion in federal court.
“My understanding is that jail custody staff have been informed that masks are now required, with the Sheriff to send an official Post Order to all staff by the end of this week,” he added.”
Fischer said he was unaware that the UCD Medical Center pulled its psychiatry trainees that same day, writing, “What a mess!”