Calif. Long-Term Care Ombudsmen Concerned With Medical Parole Law

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Long-term care ombudsmen in California are raising concerns that a state law allowing paroled prison inmates to receive care at nursing homes could be putting other nursing home residents at risk, the Bay Citizen/New York Times reports (Mieszkowski, Bay Citizen/New York Times, 1/19).

Background

SB 1399 allows inmates deemed medically incapacitated to receive parole as part of efforts to reduce state spending on prison health care.

According to the law, inmates who are "permanently medically incapacitated with a medical condition" and "unable to perform activities of basic daily living" can be released if they are found not to be a threat to public safety. If their condition improves or they violate any terms of the parole, their parole can be revoked (California Healthline, 7/25/11).

Facilities caring for medical parolees do not have to inform other patients or their families about the parolees, and ombudsmen do not receive formal notice when parolees transfer to facilities in their regions.

The state can reimburse private nursing homes as much as 30% more than Medicare for the care of parolees. The state also can be reimbursed by federal programs -- such as Medicare, Social Security, and Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid program -- for some of the parolees' medical care.

According to Joyce Hayhoe -- legislative director for California Correctional Health Care Services -- the state will save more than $19 million annually from the 29 inmates who have been granted medical parole thus far.

Details of the Concerns

Wanda Hale -- program manager for the long-term care ombudsman program at Catholic Charities in Santa Clara County -- said, "There are worries involved in putting prisoners in with the regular population of frail seniors."

There also are concerns about the safety of staff who care for the parolees, the Times reports.

Joseph Rodrigues -- the state long-term care ombudsman -- asked, "Are you going to end up in a situation where the parolees could in theory outnumber the older residents of the facilities who are not parolees?"

Reaction to Concerns

Some advocates for prisoners argue that medical parolees do not pose public safety threats.

Steven Fama -- a lawyer with the Prison Law Office, a not-for-profit public interest law firm in Berkeley -- said the parolees "are profoundly disabled" and "would pose no danger to the public."  

Fama added, "We are talking about people who are incapable of performing the basic activities of daily living, and in some cases even knowing where they are" (Bay Citizen/New York Times, 1/19).


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