I just learned today that I am receiving the runner-up award for Best Health & Science Reporting from the SPJ's Northwest Region Excellence in Journalism Contest! This story moved me to tears multiple times, out of frustration, out of sadness, and out of anger.
I had to deal with a very unfriendly public informations officer from Jail Health Services (JHS). The JHS Director was great, but also didn't take me and my work seriously so he ended up saying things he regretted and argued with my editor about whether he said them or not (he did). The man also notified me at one point that he accidentally shredded the original copy of a medical grievance record I specifically asked for. This was a year-long investigative piece. I first interviewed Michael Hayes — who suffers from drug addiction, homelessness, and schizoaffective disorder — in Harborview's Psych Ward. But don't be impressed by that, he's a wonderful person, and by no means fits the stigma everyone associates with these things. He's just trying to make it through life as best he can. This assignment also required of me to delve into the nuances of getting signed access by Hayes for medical records, sifting through literally hundreds of pages of records from JHS, and jumping through a lot of hoops.
Mentally ill people in Washington’s jails or prisons struggle with prescription adherence. It takes days to register and verify medical information from outside facilities (like hospitals) or from officials (like psychiatrists). It becomes harder still because the list of approved medications can vary from prison to prison, jail to jail, said Mike Stanfill, a psychiatric and social services director for Jail Health Services (JHS), a branch of Public Health for King County correctional facilities in Seattle and the Regional Justice Center in Kent ... The 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause requires states to take responsibility for inmate medical care. But patients are often left on their own to make sure their needs are met ... Bay verified that the medications Hayes was eventually given by JHS were appropriate for his schizoaffective disorder. But they were prescribed approximately halfway through his 16-day stay ... Stanfill said: 'Unfortunately, what’s happened is jails and us have become primary care providers for a huge chunk of the population. The criminal system was never designed to manage health care, and unfortunately that’s what it’s become.'