Blaming the Lawsuit: Shumate v. Wilson Is the New Excuse

by Charisse Shumate, CCWF
[In earlier issues of The Fire Inside we brought you stories about the suit women at CCWF and at CIW filed against governor Wilson et. al. challenging lack of medical care. According to the settlement, the state of California is to provide care according to agreed on standards. It should have been an improvement.–Editors]
Why do so many things seem to have gotten worse? I, Charisse Shumate, took part in this battle because it’s something I believe in. As I look back on when this case was first accepted in the court in April 1995, up to this day, what have I seen that would make me stop my protest against what I and any other hu
man being knows is wrong? Let’s talk about the Shumate settlement:
1. Terms Met
The only term that they have met is the lock box system for confidentiality and it is a Catch-22. The co-payment forms seem to vanish when we, the prisoner population, need them to go to a clinic. Ask for one and we are told it’s up to the housing unit to provide us with the form?another way to pass the buck and another way that seeing the doctor or nurse is made more and more difficult.
2. Terms Not Met

  1. One RN has to respond to two yards (a total of eight housing units with at least 800 women on each yard). We have one ambulance to serve two prisons?Valley State and CCWF. It has to be on 24-hour call and must serve almost 7,000 women. That means we are still understaffed as well as without enough working equipment.
  2. The vehicle used by the RN, a rover, may work three days at the most in one week. Each facility clinic should have at least two wheelchairs for prisoners’ temporary use. Instead, a prisoner who needs to be transported to a clinic or the emergency room has to ask another prisoner to use her wheelchair. That prisoner may need the wheelchair because it’s the only way she can get around due to a handicap, and if she lends her wheelchair to her sick peer, she may not get it back because the sick prisoner may be sent to the hospital or the Skilled Nursing Facility (prison infirmary). The medical department does not care whether that chair is returned to its rightful owner.
  3. Diagnostic follow-up. When a doctor at CCWF orders a test, there is no guarantee it will happen. No one follows up, so the prisoner must start all over again with a co-payment form to try to see the original doctor to find out why the test wasn’t performed. If the prisoner is lucky enough to get the test done, she will still have to fill out a co-payment form or write to the medical records office to see her own chart. If she does get the chart, she may not understand it and no one will be available to explain it to her. A doctor may ask to see a prisoner, but she may not be told that, and so she will have to start all over again. The new Chronic Care Program (CCP) is a joke. A prisoner may have more than one chronic medical condition. When she sees a doctor she cannot discuss her other chronic condition, but it may very well be the same doctor she will see in the next month or so for the other condition. If she asks why, she is told to thank the Shumate case. There are many prisoners who are still experiencing life-threatening delays in refilling already prescribed medication. Why? They say, “the Shumate case”!

Before the case was filed these problems were outright neglect. Now they use the Shumate case as the excuse for the very same neglect and lack of standard medical treatments. They always compare our care to Kaiser care, but we don’t even get the care that a person without medical insurance would get at a county hospital. You may have to sit all day at a county hospital, but at least you are seen that same day. No prisoner here is seen the same day unless she is not breathing, she’s bleeding, or (the newest RN statement) she is blue?because if her fingertips are pink it can wait! As for assessors coming to see what’s happening here, what good is that when the department is notified before they arrive? They clean up their acts on that one day, so it looks like they are really trying. MTAs and RNs are told to be on their best behavior on those days. When will the assessors talk to the prisoners who put their life on the line to keep an eye on California Department of Corrections? Do they really want to know the truth, or do they just want to blame everything on the Shumate case?