September 04, 2022

Article at San Diego Union-Tribune

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Persistent medical staffing shortages in San Diego jails are causing lapses in care, driving down morale

Sheriff's Deputies escorts inmates down a secured hallway at downtown Central Jail in 2015.

Sheriff’s Department says it is improving practices and actively recruiting

By the time Jennifer Alonso took a job as a mental health clinician treating people in the San Diego sheriff’s custody, she was a mid-career social worker committed to serving the neediest of the needy.

Alonso left Atascadero State Hospital to work in San Diego County jails in 2019. She was told she would perform mental health screenings, respond to psychiatric crises and develop an outpatient step-down unit for patients with chronic mental illness.

But Alonso quit this past April, saying her responsibility for up to 160 patients at a time was wildly unmanageable and she was too often overruled by sworn staff in the Sheriff’s Department — or not consulted at all.

“This patient caseload was so large that it was impossible to deliver anything remotely close to adequate mental health care given the needs of this population,” Alonso wrote in a May declaration filed in federal court as part of a class-action lawsuit against the San Diego Sheriff’s Department.

“I have observed my patients decompensate, suffer in what can only be described as filthy, inhumane conditions and, in some cases, die by suicide,” she wrote. “My patients were subjected to terrible conditions and put at risk of great harm every day, and I felt powerless to give them the care they need and deserve.”

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