View Full Version : San Quentin prison doctor who hasn't seen a patient in eight months.

10-08-2005, 04:11 PM
Prison doctor paid not to work


By Mark Gladstone

Mercury News Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO - California taxpayers have shelled out $91,000 -- $11,381 a month and counting -- for a San Quentin prison doctor who hasn't seen a patient in eight months.

Dr. X, as he's known in federal court documents, has been linked to three inmate deaths since 2002. His story provides what medical experts see as a frightening illustration of the quality of health care received by inmates and the inability of prison health officers to quickly identify and address problems without wasting taxpayer money.

The San Francisco physician was sidelined by prison officials, but not until Feb. 3 of this year -- four days after the third prisoner died.

Bobby Lee Duren of Oakland was diagnosed with bronchitis and prescribed cough syrup, Tylenol, Benadryl and antibiotics. On the way back to his cell, he collapsed. Less than 30 hours later, Duren, 48, was rushed to Marin General Hospital where his heart stopped three times before he experienced massive bleeding into his lungs and died.

His family now wonders whether his life could have been saved had corrections administrators moved more swiftly to replace Dr. X.

Duren's mother, Annie Jones, a retired Oakland nurse, has taken the first steps toward filing a lawsuit against the state, alleging negligence on the part of Dr. X and the state. If state officials were deliberately indifferent, taxpayers could potentially face major legal liability not only for Duren's death but also in others.

Jones says she wants justice and to make sure Dr. X never sees another patient.

``I wouldn't want him to deliver a cow. Not anything,'' said Jones, who wants his physician's license yanked. ``I still can't cry. I don't sleep at night because of Bobby.'' Duren was sentenced to nine years in prison in connection with an assault outside a BART station. With credit for county jail time, he was tentatively due to be released next April.

Trained in Saigon

The identity of Duren's doctor has been shrouded in mystery since the case was disclosed last spring. Prison health care records obtained by the Mercury News show that Garen Vong, a San Francisco physician, prescribed the medications to Duren.

In a brief telephone interview, Vong acknowledged treating Duren but insisted he did nothing wrong.

``I don't think I should be held responsible,'' Vong said. The 1978 graduate of the University of Saigon Faculty of Medicine also said he was interviewed by investigators but he believes he was cleared in the other two deaths. Todd Slosek, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said Vong was placed on paid administrative leave and internal affairs investigators are looking into whether he committed medical malpractice. He couldn't comment on whether Vong had been cleared of anything.

Vong joined the prison system three years ago. He has no disciplinary actions reported on his public file at the Medical Board.

``I just feel the system has failed us,'' said Duren's sister, Debbie Lewis of San Leandro. ``They failed to rehabilitate Bobby, and they failed to have adequate medical care. I guess to go to prison means a death sentence.''

The department's handling of prison health care has been at the center of intense scrutiny since a class-action lawsuit was filed by inmates in 2001. The suit led to an agreement to overhaul the $1.1 billion health care system for the state's 165,000 inmates. However, attorneys for inmates contended last spring that the Schwarzenegger administration had failed to live up to its promise and wanted a federal judge to take over.

The judge appointed three medical experts to examine the system, and they determined that there was widespread negligence. At San Quentin, they found 10 preventable deaths, including three attributed to the same anonymous doctor, Dr. X.

Two sources familiar with the deaths confirmed that Vong is Dr. X, and prison records indicate that Vong treated Duren in the days leading to his death.

Trustee named

In part because of testimony about Dr. X, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson announced in June he was naming a trustee to take over the system. On Oct. 3, he formalized his order, citing ``incompetence and outright depravity in the rendering of medical care.''

Vong is just one of five prison physicians currently on paid administrative leave, according to Slosek. So far this year the other four have been paid roughly $200,000 not to practice medicine.

Slosek defends the handling of the Vong matter and the other cases. ``The department will continue to aggressively investigate all allegations of medical malpractice,'' he said, ``and take appropriate disciplinary action against those doctors who are not providing adequate health care.''

Under civil service laws, Slosek said, it is ``virtually impossible to fire anyone on the spot'' and employees are given administrative leave pending an inquiry.

Gary Robinson, executive director of the union that represents prison physicians, said he could not comment on the specific cases but complained about what he views as the unfair way the state handles doctor discipline.

Duren, a Texas native, grew up in Oakland and at various times had been a caregiver for his mother, who is now 71. He has a 5-year-old daughter. Records show he had been in and out of prison for a variety of offenses, including burglary, possession of drugs and most recently the 2001 assault case.

Annie Jones recalls enjoying a festive holiday last Christmas Day. Never mind that she was at San Quentin and buying vending machine food in the heavily guarded waiting room; she was with her son and they were laughing.

It would be the last time she saw him alive. Five weeks later, her joy turned to anger. Her son was dead.

Tambra Duren accompanied her grandmother on that holiday visit. She recalled that her uncle looked ill. ``He was in a happy mood, but he looked sick in his face,'' she said. ``He tried to keep smiling just to keep my grandmother's spirits up.''

`Very serious'

A month later, he was in the Marin County prison's emergency room with a high fever, low blood pressure, a high pulse, fast respiratory rate -- all reflecting a ``very serious medical problem'' that could have been diagnosed by a fourth-year medical student, according to testimony last June by Dr. Joe Goldenson, who reviewed the file at Judge Henderson's request.

But Vong, who was finishing a month in which salary records show he was paid for working 124 hours of overtime, sent Duren back to his cell. As guards escorted him, Duren collapsed and either fainted or almost fainted, said Goldenson, San Francisco's jail health services director. The guards brought him back to the prison medical facility, Goldenson testified, saying ``This guy is really sick.'' The next day, another physician sent Duren to Marin General. He died from the internal bleeding, though it's not been determined what caused the bleeding.

Goldenson contended if Duren had received appropriate care at San Quentin he wouldn't have died. ``It was another example, not only of bad medical care, but information was known about a physician who was dangerous and responsible for patients dying who was still practicing,'' Goldenson said.

He went on to describe two other instances in which the same doctor ``had shown extremely poor judgment to the point of negligence.'' The names of the inmates were not revealed.

In one, a deaf and mute inmate fell and hit his head in his cell at 3:45 a.m. July 15, 2003. The 58-year-old prisoner was bleeding and his blood pressure had plunged to dangerously low levels. By telephone, the physician ordered him admitted to a medical unit but he did not order a review of vital signs or neurological checks.

Goldenson testified he should have been sent to the hospital immediately. The next morning he was going to be transported to a hospital but instead of keeping him in a medical area and monitoring the prisoner, he was sent back to his cell. A nurse went to check his vital signs. He was dead.

On May 27, 2002 the same doctor saw a 42-year-old patient who was showing signs of dementia; he was confused and disoriented. The doctor said it was a psychiatric problem. However, a psychiatrist refused to admit him to his unit, saying ``he needs to be medically cleared.''

``The guy ended up dying of an overwhelming infection,'' Goldenson said, and ``again, this doctor didn't pick up on the clues, didn't manage it correctly, and the patient died.''

The Duren family claim was rejected Sept. 15 by state officials who said it raises complex legal issues that should be resolved by formal legal action. Now, his mother's attorney says he's notified Dr. Vong and the corrections system that he plans to sue in Duren's death.


10-08-2005, 04:18 PM
Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.........:angry: It's high time these people started to realize just who it is that is paying their salaries!!!!:angry: :angry: :angry:

10-08-2005, 05:48 PM
Must be nice to sit on your duff and collect a salary..I pay my taxes for this kind of NON-treatment of prisoners?!