SLO County Health Agency Director breaks department’s silence amid controversial jail deaths

Posted at 7:25 PM, Jun 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-28 22:25:21-04

After months of silence from San Luis Obispo County Mental Health on the controversial treatment of county jail inmates, the Health Agency Director speaks out.

In his first interview, Michael Hill talked about taking over the position just a month ago and the changes to better care for mentally ill inmates.

It all stems from the death of Andrew Holland who died of a blood clot at the San Luis Obispo County Jail after he was strapped to a restraint chair for 46 hours.

Sheriff Ian Parkinson had said Holland, who had schizophrenia, was hurting himself and awaiting transfer to the county’s psychiatric facility, which is operated by county health.

The transfer that was repeatedly denied.

"Many people had different pieces of information and we didn’t all collectively have the same information," Behavioral Health Administrator Anne Robin told KSBY News during an interview in November 2017.

Since then, county health has not granted interviews on the matter, until now.

"There’s scrutiny over various issues right that we’re trying to work through," Michael Hill said, the new Health Agency Director who was brought in to replace Jeff Hamm.

Hamm resigned amid community backlash over high-profile deaths, like Holland’s, at the jail.

On the job for about a month, Hill said he supports the changes made before he took over the position. Come July 1, an inmate’s care will rest solely with the sheriff’s office and its new chief medical officer.

Currently, county health oversees inmate medical and mental health care.

"It’s fairly typical across the country for jail health to be centralized within the jail because there are different challenges when you are incarcerating people," Hill said, but when asked specifically about the Holland case, Hill was reluctant to speak about what happened on his predecessor’s watch. "I wasn’t here and I don’t want to get into that… there were obviously mistakes made by somebody."

Instead, he is focused on getting help for mentally ill people before they land in jail.

"To help people stay on the right track, help them be successful, help them find housing, help them organize their lives so they don’t become inmates," he said.

Inmate care accounted for less than one percent of the health agency’s operations, according to Hill.

As health agency director, Hill oversees behavioral health, public health and animal services, which totals about 600 employees.

As for the Holland case, an FBI investigation is underway to determine if inmate civil rights were violated.

The county settled with Holland’s family for $5 million, paid from the county’s medical malpractice insurance.