State officials tell judge they’re still years away from fixing health care in Baltimore jails

Published 8/2/2023 5:30 a.m. EDT, Updated 8/2/2023 6:59 p.m. EDT

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State attorneys told a federal judge this week that Maryland’s corrections department won’t meet the court’s December 2024 deadline to fix health care and mental health in Baltimore jails. Instead, officials are targeting the end of 2025 to be fully compliant with the terms of a 2016 settlement.

The shifting timelines come despite the fact that the judge already gave the state a six-month extension on the deadline two years ago. Conditions in the city jails, meanwhile, show few signs of improvement.

Recent reports by court-appointed monitors who track medical and mental health care in city jails have documented people with severe mental illness languishing in solitary confinement, error-prone medical records, missed medications and people with disabilities not being properly identified or accommodated, even after a deaf man was killed in his cell late last year while being housed with a man charged with murder.

Corene Kendrick, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project who represents the plaintiffs in the underlying lawsuit, said experts have repeatedly told state officials what they need to do to come into compliance with the settlement “and the state just is not doing it.”

“It’s really concerning and troubling that the state is nonchalantly telling the court that they’re just going to blow past the deadline,” Kendrick said in an interview with The Baltimore Banner. “It shows a very disturbing level of indifference to all of the suffering and the death that’s going on in the jail.”

In a statement, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said it is “fully committed to resolving the various challenges related to the Duvall case.”

“Our focus is on ensuring the fair and just administration of justice, and we are diligently working towards addressing the issues presented by the case,” spokesperson Latoya Gray said.

It’s not yet clear how the judge might react to the state’s filing of its timeline. Attorneys for the state did not officially request an extension, instead laying out when it anticipates being fully compliant with the provisions of the settlement. In that filing, it said that 21 of the remaining 36 requirements to satisfy the settlement would not be fully implemented until June or December of 2025.

Many of the delays can be tied to upheavals with a private vendor that have left electronic medical records in disarray, according to monitoring reports.

Bugs in the software make records hard to interpret and error-prone, with recurring oddities such as detainees having multiple medical records and a “widespread problem” of people being falsely marked as deceased when they are in fact alive. Not only does this complicate care for the medical staff, it’s also rendered the records increasingly difficult for the court monitors to decipher.

The problems with the city’s jails start from the moment someone is booked, according to the monitoring report.

Nurses who collect medical information are failing to properly document conditions, including whether someone is on prescriptions, which can be especially dangerous for people who require insulin or blood thinners, as two examples.

Even patients who are sent to the hospital for medical emergencies, such as a diabetic scare, return to the jail only to be lost in the disorderly health care system once again, the monitor noted, using the example of a patient who was not routinely administered insulin.

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