October 9, 2008 | Mark Paradies

Judge Orders Improvements to California’s Prisoner Healthcare System

Associated Press reports that U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson has ordered the state of California to pay to improve the prisoners healthcare system.

The story says that:

Medical care in California’s prisons is so bad it has been ruled unconstitutional. Henderson appointed a receiver to run the prison medical system after finding that an average of an inmate a week was dying from neglect or malpractice.

But is this really bad?

Lets estimate that 100,000 people per year die in the US from sentinel events.

Since California has 12% of the population, let’s assume they get 12% of the fatalities – or 12,000 fatalities.

Divided by weeks – that’s about 231 fatalities per week in California. If only one of those are in the prison system, then that’s still 230 fatalities in the non-prison population.

Since about 1/2 of 1% of California’s population is in prison, let’s take 0.005 times the 230 deaths. The result? 1.15

That means, based on our assumptions, that California’s prison healthcare is about the same (or maybe slightly better) that the healthcare system used by the general population.


Even if our assumptions are off by 50%, the systems aren’t all that different.

What a judge deems unconstitutional, we call “standard of care.”

Let’s hope that hospitals will stop using simplistic cause-and-effect / 5 why analysis and start adopting advanced root cause analysis and implement effective corrective actions to improve performance and stop the tragic, needless deaths associated with medical errors.

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