The State Worker
Millions spent at California prison with contaminated water 7 months after inmate’s death
By Wes Venteicher
October 15, 2019 06:00 AM, Updated October 15, 2019 12:05 PM
A bacteria outbreak at a state prison in Stockton has cost California $8.5 million and doesn’t appear to be going away seven months after it infected two inmates, one of whom died. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported in March that two inmates had tested positive for Legionella, a bacteria that can cause a life-threatening form of pneumonia when inhaled in water vapor. One of the inmates died.
Subsequent tests showed the bacteria was widespread throughout the water system at California Health Care Facility, the state’s newest prison built about six years ago. A source of the bacteria still has not been identified, CDCR spokeswoman Terry Thornton said in an email. The $8.5 million cost is far higher than what the state spent on the last major Legionella outbreak at a prison, when more than a dozen inmates and staff contracted Legionnaire’s disease from the bacteria at San Quentin State Prison in 2015. That outbreak cost about $240,000.
Twenty-one out of 29 inmate housing buildings at the Stockton prison remain under water restrictions, Thornton said. Among 87 prison buildings with domestic water systems, 66 still have restrictions, she said. The totals don’t include nearby youth prison facilities that have also been under restrictions. Sinks in those buildings are reserved for hand washing. Bottled water is provided for inmates and prison staff to wash their faces, shave and brush their teeth. Spending on bottled water at the 2,600-inmate facility has reached $342,000, Thornton said.
Point-of-use filters costing about $641,000 have been installed on showers and drinking fountains, allowing them to be used normally, she said. Portable showers added $6.1 million in costs. The prison has spent about $1.3 million on overtime related to the bacteria and about $65,000 on local water treatment, Thornton said.
Thornton said the strategy moving forward includes flushing water lines. “Flushing of the water lines continue as they’ve seen positive results, meaning the presence of Legionella is not of concern,” she said in the email.
The corrections department is working with Los Angeles-based contractor Clark Seif Clark on other steps to address the bacteria. “CDCR continues to work with its consultant to evaluate remediation efforts at CHCF,” Thornton said in an email. “Longer-term actions will be determined by the results of testing. CDCR is actively working to ensure the safety and security of its staff, inmates and visitors, and hopes to solidify a path forward following results of testing.”
The bacteria is most dangerous for elderly people or those with compromised immune systems. A 2015 outbreak at a veterans home in Illinois contributed to 14 deaths. The bacteria sickened 22 people in the vicinity of Disneyland in 2017.
The first inmate in Stockton to contract Legionnaires’ was John Dale Cook, 65. Cook entered the prison system in January 2018 from San Diego County on an eight-year sentence for second-degree robbery and assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury. San Joaquin County public health records show that Cook already had an assortment of medical problems, including chronic hepatitis C – making him particularly vulnerable to Legionnaires’. He died March 7 after being transferred to San Joaquin General Hospital in French Camp, according to county records. No inmates have tested for legionella since the two cases in March, according to California Correctional Health Care Services.
The Stockton outbreak adds to California’s long-running problems with its prisons violating drinking water standards. State regulators have cited the prisons about 200 times since 1993, according to an investigation by The Sacramento Bee.
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