Parties probe into level of care at Department of Corrections - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Parties probe into level of care at Department of Corrections

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by Krystal Paco

Guam - It was a day of fact finding at the District Court of Guam as parties dig further into what's really happening with medical, mental, and dental care at the Department of Corrections. For Chief Judge Francis Tydingco Gatewood, a quick read of reports on the state of healthcare provided at DepCor "sounds like a huge crisis."

As DepCor medical director Dr. Raja Saad took the stand today, he confirmed it is.

During a status hearing with US Department of Justice on the line Dr. Saad reported there is a TB crisis on DepCor grounds. It was earlier this year he confirmed an active case of TB among pre-trial detainees which prompted a mass screening. Although they aren't active cases, he confirms that of the over 500 tested to date, 158 have acquired the bacteria requiring them to take medications for the full duration of six to nine months. Should these individuals leave the jail without treatment, he says they "put the community at risk."

But it's not just TB that's raising red flags...it's a daily struggle to meet minimal healthcare standards with only him and two nurses on staff to cater to the 740 DepCor population. According to a graph provided today, Dr. Saad was only able to see half of the 461 prisoners who made a sick call and requested to see a doctor back in February and this only covers medical care, not mental or dental.

Because they're so shortstaffed, he says corrections officers are responsible for dispensing medicines...although this isn't recommended, it's necessary for prisoners to attain their medicines and may have resulted in reported missing prescriptions...

In addition to being shortstaffed, he adds they lack medical supplies, forcing him to borrow from a private clinic and lack medical equipment including hospital beds and exam tables.

And Dr. Saad only can cover medical care...as he states, any mental health needs are referred to the Guam Behavior and Wellness Center but often goes without followups. As for dental care, DepCor's contract with public health ended last year. That arrangement however only allowed for four patients to be seen per week and only for an evaluation or extraction.

While on the stand, Dr. Saad admitted to being apprehensive to speak up fearing he would be "marked" by his superiors.

As he noted today, he suspects his former colleague Dr. Andrea Leitheiser didn't have her contract renewed because she spoke up on the dire needs of the department. He added "as a doctor, I can't ignore these things. I have to bring it up..."

He also notes together he and Dr. Leitheiser compiled a binder of operational recommendations which would help bring DepCor into compliance with mandates. As he revealed today

He was given instructions not to distribute the binder and could only do so under the approval of DepCor director Jose San Agustin.

While the hearing broke for lunch, San Agustin provided media with his reactions to the allegations from Dr. Saad. "No there is no one marked here. I will love to continue to employ them but they need to be under my terms. They need to follow my directions. I'll be more than happy to entertain their direction. I know what I'm doing. All I'm asking is lets work together lets work together lets move forward. I'm not a hard headed person but I've got a job to do. And my job is to make sure I accomplish the mission of DOC and that's to take care of the inmates, the detainees, and all the officers and employees of the Department of Corrections," he said.

As for the binder of recommendations, San Agustin says the binder was compiled at his request which is why he's exercising executive privilege. He notes that by sharing the binder he feared the information would instead be used against DepCor, instead of help.

"I'm not a doctor but I know what I gotta do. I'll say this again and I'll say this over and over – DOC has come a long way with regards to meeting the mandates with all stipulated agreement in 1991," he said.

Meanwhile, court monitor Attorney Bradley Klemm who submitted the initial report on the state of healthcare at DepCor declined to comment until proceedings completed as well as Assistant Attorney General Donna Lawrence. 

In addition to today's proceedings Dr. Saad noted there is a single case of HIV at DepCor hinting that the individual had previously escaped DepCor.  According to KUAM news files, Keith Garrido escaped from a transport vehicle which didn't have locks. While on the run he broke into a Chalan Pago home and beat a woman inside. DepCor Director Jose San Agustin says he doesn't believe the woman was tested as there was no indication of blood or saliva contact. 
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