As many as 66 inmates died because of poor medical care last year, according to a report released Wednesday, including a man whose treatment for "constant and extreme" chest pain was delayed eight hours.
The report released by Robert Sillen, the court-appointed receiver in charge of California prison health care, reviewed 381 deaths. It found that 18 deaths were preventable and 48 were possibly preventable, for a total of about 17 percent. The report excluded suicides and executions.
"There are just far too many horror stories that continue to occur," Sillen said.
Sillen took over the prisons' medical system in April 2006, after a federal judge found that an average of one inmate a week was dying of neglect or malpractice. Inmates have continued dying preventable deaths, according to the report, even as Sillen has begun making changes, which have cost state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
"I had no expectations the first year that there would be any change in the numbers, because there are no quick fixes," Sillen said. "We've scratched the surface, but that's all we've done."
Sillen said he expects it will take another year or even two before preventable deaths decline as better doctors and nurses take their place. Fifty-seven prison doctors and six nurses were fired, suspended or required to take remedial education classes between June 2005 and July 2007 as a result of poor medical decisions, according to the report.
Attorneys for inmates and some lawmakers have criticized Sillen for not bringing results fast enough even as he has unilaterally increased medical provider wages and ordered new equipment and medical centers.
"I'm hoping that actions can be taken that will more promptly minimize the risk, especially getting more doctors into the system," said Steve Fama, an attorney with the nonprofit Prison Law Office. "They're trying to provide medical care with one hand tied behind their back, and it doesn't work."