As federal and county investigators complete their reviews of medical and procedural breakdowns in King County's jails , the in-custody death rate continued at a


Jail Errors Soar

Medical mistakes, death rate continue at high rate.

As federal and county investigators complete their reviews of medical and procedural breakdowns in King County's jails, the in-custody death rate continued at a high level last year, while reported jail medical errors have soared, according to new figures obtained by Seattle Weekly.

Though just three inmates died from 2000 through 2002, 19 have died in the past four years, and a 20th, James Whiteshield, 17, held in the county juvenile facility, died in January after swallowing a packet of rock cocaine, investigative records show. Jailers were unaware he'd ingested the packet when arrested, although he'd done the same thing when arrested under similar circumstances in 2005.

Another inmate died last year after falling out of his bunk and landing on his head. Also, Francisco Green, 23, was shot and killed in April last year while out on daytime work release from the jail. He was involved in a gang-style shootout in Pioneer Square. (The shooting, which left some innocent bystanders wounded, was widely reported but Green's work-release connection wasn't).

Medical errors, meanwhile, increased by more than 200 incidents in 2006 over 2005, according to newly released data. There were 854 incidents reported to Jail Health Services in 2006 (393 from the King County Correctional Facility - the downtown Seattle jail - and 461 from the Regional Justice Center in Kent). In 2005, 614 incidents were reported (330 from the Seattle jail and 284 from Kent).

Most errors (757 total for both facilities) had to do with adminstration of medicines, the jail says. There were 53 patient-treatment errors as well.

The medication administration category," says Lisa Werlech of the county Health Department which oversees jail health services, "includes information on a large variety of specific issues, including potential errors."

Types of information reported, she says, include immunization reaction, allergies, and medications not given at the right time. "To put this data in context, we dispensed a total of 191,119 new or refill prescriptions in 2006. Medication administration incidents made up 0.39% of the total prescriptions dispensed."

Werlech attributes the sharp rise in part to the "expected outcome of our increased emphasis on training, education and support for all staff to look for and report all incidents, and it reflects the ongoing improvement in our quality assurance practices."As the Weekly has reported over the past few years, jail health care has been poorly managed, according to nurses, inmates and custody officers, sometimes leading to deadly errors such as the suicide of one inmate who was able to hoard his prescribed pills, and the fatal administration of the wrong medicine to another inmate. The increase in deaths and mistakes have since drawn ongoing reviews by the county and the U.S. Department of Justice.

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