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PLN editor quoted in article re medical care at Washington state prison

Seattle Weekly, Jan. 1, 2010.
PLN editor quoted in article re medical care at Washington state prison - Seattle Weekly 2010

Prison Health Care Sparks New Concerns After One Monroe Inmate Dies And Another Lies Unconscious

By Nina Shapiro, Thu., Jul. 22 2010 @ 11:38AM

Inmates at the Monroe Correctional Complex are worried once again about the quality of medical care in the prison after one man died a few weeks ago and another, at last report, lay near death. The incidents follow years of inadequate care, according to Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News and a former inmate at Monroe. Yet Karen Portin, an associate superintendent at Monroe, says the facility is so concerned about inmate care that in the wake of the recent episodes it started urging prisoners to get physicals exams.

Portin acknowledges that inmates believe that Richard Saintcalle, a 44-year-old who started feeling ill while exercising in the gym last week, was neglected. She concedes he was subsequently left in his cell for about an hour-and-a-half, at which point he collapsed. (He is widely believed to have had a heart attack, but Portin says she cannot confirm that due to medical privacy laws.)

According to Portin, however, what's missing from that scenario is that Saintcalle was immediately treated after experiencing his first symptoms in the gym. Staff took him to the prison clinic, where he was tested, with inclusive results. Feeling better, he walked back to his cell and stayed there until he collapsed, at which point medical personnel were immediately summoned, says Portin. Late last week, Saintcalle was unconscious and not expected to recover.

As for the man who died, a 61-year-old named George Manussier (pictured above), she says he collapsed while playing softball in the prison yard and was treated--unsuccessfully--within minutes.

Both Manussier and Saintcalle were sentenced to life, Manussier for robbery in a three-strikes case, Saintcalle for murder.

Due to a let's-not-coddle-prisoners law that passed the Legislature in the mid'90s, the Monroe complex, like all such state facilities, charges a $3 to $5 fee for doctor visits--a not inconsiderable sum for inmates who typically earn no more than 55 cents an hour. After Manussier's death, though, the prison announced that it would start offering free physicals. Few have taken the prison up on the offer, Portin says.

Wright is skeptical. He cites numerous stories his newsletter has done on substandard health care at Monroe and other prisons around the state, including one about a man who suffered a fatal heart attack in 1994 after allegedly getting little or no treatment for his symptoms. The problem, he says, is that "the final medical decision on who gets what treatment is ultimately made by the warden [not the doctor] based on cost."