By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
. In 2005, Jenny Pastran, the wife of a deputy sheriff working at Men’s Central Jail, sued the county after Skid Row staph was detected in her 11-day-old son’s bloodstream. He spent nearly two weeks in intensive care. The lawsuit alleged that the jail failed to adequately inform their employees of the proper measures to take to prevent the spreading of the bacteria. Pastran believes that her husband, who was working in the jail infirmary, carried the bacteria home and gave it to their infant, Ryan. The family says the Sheriff’s Department offered $15,000 to cover expenses, but they rejected it and filed the lawsuit.
“They denied it came from the facility,” says Pastran. “They say there is no way we could prove our son got it from Men’s Central. I felt that they had done us wrong from the start. I wanted them to admit they were responsible for what happened and take accountability. And they did nothing.”
Pastran ended up dropping the lawsuit after the county claimed that the strain of staph her son contracted was not the one found in the jail.
Fifty-three-year-old Michael Buford started his jail term for a drug-possession conviction on September 5, 2005. Six weeks later, he was dead. An autopsy determined pneumonia related to Skid Row staph contributed to his death. It was the first known death from the infection in a Los Angeles County jail.
Buford’s brother Wesley says that his brother was not given proper medical care by jail staff and should have been taken to the hospital sooner.
“He had emphysema,” says Wesley. “He contracted [staph] while he was in there, and it settled in the weakest part of his body. They were treating him for everything but that. He shouldn’t have died. He was the lifeline of our family.”
Buford’s family plans to sue Los Angeles County. In 2004, three Los Angeles law firms filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of other inmates infected. The lawsuit claims that jail conditions are unhygienic, overcrowded and unsanitary, and that inmates must sleep on the inmate-reception-area floors, sometimes for days, next to overflowing urinals and toilets or on unclean sleeping mattresses and bedding. One inmate alleged that he was denied medical care for a week after complaining about a bad rash and severe pain under his arm. The inmate was transferred to the California Correctional Institution at Tehachapi, where he was diagnosed with Skid Row staph.
“The county needs to adequately fund new programs that will be proactive so that [Skid Row staph] doesn’t spread in jails,” says attorney Cynthia Anderson Barker. “Inmates are considered to be a throwaway population. As inmates are released, many end up in Skid Row and with the public. There are no community programs to follow up . . . in the general population. It can re-emerge. It is a question of resources and putting money in prevention. There is a risk to the greater community.”
UCLA researchers are planning to do a study to see whether or not the jail is contributing to the staph epidemic.
“We are trying to understand how people are getting [Skid Row staph] in jail,” says Dr. Loren Miller, associate professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “There are people who believe that the jail might be contributing to the epidemic. I am not so sure.”
The first cases of staph infection proved puzzling to jail officials in 2001. The pinpoint-size infections were blamed on brown recluse spiders. Pesticides didn’t stop the complaints. In spring 2002, several spiders were captured and identified as nonbiting spiders. At the same time, the inmates’ lesions were tested and found to be staph infections.
The jail tried to eradicate staph by doubling the laundry exchange, cleaning cells more often, allowing daily showers and educating inmates through videos and posters. In 2005, an epidemiologist began tracking the bacteria. Inmates began using a highly potent bacterial soap but still were getting sick.
Regardless of the cleaning efforts, the number of infected inmates has continued to rise: 1,849 in 2003, 2,464 in 2004 and 3,214 in 2005. One way to show how prevalent Skid Row staph has become is this statistic: In 2002, 9 percent of inmates diagnosed with staph were believed to have contracted the infection in the community; now, it is up to one-third, with most of the infections seen in Central City East arrestees.
“There are a lot of sick people in the jail and people who are at risk of being infected. One-third of our inmates are on pill call,” says jail epidemiologist Dr. Nina Harawa. “I don’t think there is a way of eradicating it. We book 14,000 to 20,000 inmates a month. Many of them have a lot of health issues and are at risk of infections.”
LAPD’s Central Division has taken matters into its own hands. Officers will get training monthly on ways to avoid contracting it. The station plans to buy an industrial hand sanitizer, which will be placed next to the watch commander for all the officers to use when they enter the station. It sprays out a mist of pure alcohol. Wooden benches used by new arrestees will be replaced by stainless steel so they can be disinfected regularly.