There’s a new point person at the San Luis Obispo County jail for all inmate medical issues.
The role of chief medical officer comes at a time of turmoil at the facility, following the death of inmate Andrew Holland and questions surrounding how inmates are being treated.
KSBY’s Carina Corral sat down with Dr. Christy Mulkerin for her first TV interview to discuss the work cut out for her.
The images are disturbing and unforgettable: seeing inmate Andrew Holland strapped to a restraint chair for what would be 46-hours as he awaited a transfer to mental health and what would lead to his death.
Dr. Christy Mulkerin said it’s hard to say whether her new role at the jail could’ve saved Holland’s life, but she knows today the situation would be handled differently.
"Our communication has improved so much that we would be able to call the psychiatric health facility and be able to do a good job explaining why he might need to go over there more acutely."
Her position of chief medical officer was created by Sheriff Ian Parkinson as part of sweeping changes made at the jail since Holland’s death.
Mulkerin now oversees all inmate health care and said the biggest challenges she faces are two pronged.
The first being chronic, untreated medical issues and getting inmates the proper treatment.
"We see a lot of heart disease, diabetes, complications from hepatitis and alcoholism and long standing drug use."
The second being the sheer volume of inmates coming in with mental health problems. Holland, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, being one of them. "A close second to that is when patients don’t want to take their medications," Mulkerin added.
Mulkerin will go before the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors this week and ask that they declare the jail a treatment facility, which will allow jail staff to force medicate inmates incompetent to stand trial.
"We’ll be able to have that patient take their medication and start to get better while they’re waiting for their state hospital bed," Mulkerin explained.
Holland’s death has also called into question the inmate death rate at SLO County jail where from 2010 to 2014, which is the last publicly available state statistics provided by the California Department of Justice, there were five deaths: zero in 2010, 2011 and 2013; two deaths in 2012; and three in 2014. Compared the state numbers and when adjusted for population, SLO County was about double the state average in 2012 (.0074% vs .0034%) and nearly three times in 2014 (.011% vs .043%).
During that same time period, Santa Barbara County jail also had five inmate deaths. Zero in 2010, two in 2011, zero in 2012, two in 2013, and one in 2014. Compared to state numbers and when adjusted for population, Santa Barbara County was about average for 2011 (.0047% vs .0031%) and for 2013 (.0046% vs .0037%) and below average for 2014 (.0023% vs .0043%).
When asked in her medical opinion whether SLO County rates for those years in question were high Dr. Mulkerin answered, "It’s really important to look at the number and not the rate. What happens when you have two vs three is that two can be the national average and three can be double the national average."
She also added, people are not statistics. "My goal is to make sure that these inmates are getting the very best care that they can get and that everyone is being looked after and that no one is being neglected."
And she makes no qualms about the task ahead.
Before her role as chief medical officer, Dr. Mulkerin was hired as the SLO County deputy health director in 2016. Prior to that position, she was a pediatrician in Santa Clara County for four and a half years.
Her salary is $216,112 a year.