To my honorable Elected Official:

My name is Ahmanise Sanati, and I’m a Mental Health Clinical Supervisor at Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles. I’ve been there over a decade, and I’ve never been afraid to walk into work, until now. Our civic leaders have given specific directives consistent with the CDC in a consolidated effort to flatten the curve, but our facility is shamefully lagging with enforcing them. Although some statistics provided by the Department of Health Services may suggest things are under control in our workplace, they are not. We’ve officially had an outbreak for weeks, as defined by Dr. Barbara Ferrer of the Department of Public Health. This past week we received an email informing us that we had our first death from COVED-19, he was a 33 year old nurse. Sadly, he will be one of many in the epicenter of this crisis very soon if nothing changes.

The tragic news of the nurse dying made rounds among our staff on Wednesday 4/1 morning. His colleagues told us that he went home from work with symptoms of COVED19 on 3/22, and never returned. That same morning, I found out that we had another deputy who tested positive for the virus on the floor and was home on quarantine, his only symptom was a loss of taste. He had the opportunity to test with LASD and he did. Since that time, he was the only person who has been tested and there has been no effort to indicate anything has ever happened (no extra cleaning was done, no quarantine on the floor, etc). Further, as the supervisor of the floor in consistent communication and frequenting this floor, I have yet to be informed of the incident by any management. I learned via word of mouth. We were only informed of the death of our coworker in an email days after the news circulated- we have no idea how many staff are infected at this time because the Correctional Health Services Department has made the decision to withhold all information of fellow staff-members testing positive. In fact it’s so bad, that when I was working this past weekend on 3/29, the LA Times served as the official notification to our staff re: an inmate testing positive. The rumor is we have 19 employees testing positive as of now, and that was the number circulating last week.

Interestingly enough, I was working the day the nurse who died was sick and went home. If you recall, we were already well into the pandemic on 3/22, my two young children had already been home from school a week. When I walked in that morning to the Towers where we pick up our keys for the day, I casually asked, “Do you ever disinfect these keys?”, as I was wearing my gloves and mask. The custody assistant told me, “No, you don’t need to” and proceeded to lecture me about how “the flu is worse”. That day, I was the only staff member I encountered wearing gloves or a mask, and I’m not even “hands-on” (mind you, we are the biggest jail and mental health facility in the nation!). As of 3/22, we were already in the middle of an outbreak, and unfortunately, I was deemed odd for exercising recommended precautions. We received a suggestion via email to wear masks on 4/2 (when the week prior I was mask-shamed and my colleague was told not to wear hers because she was scaring people). Still, since it’s not a directive, mask-wearing is optional. Not only that, we must bring our own as they have yet to be provided.

Although there have been some changes, it’s too little too late. DHS’s efforts are shamefully behind those done in comparable facilities. For example, Patton State Hospital and Kaiser have been taking temperatures since last week of every staff member to enter the facility (the week of 3/22-3/28), and the VA has been doing it for weeks. When asked why we aren’t doing this same in our town Hall on 3/30, we were told that we have too many employees (1440), and to do such a thing would cause crowding, that would make it impossible to practice social distancing. Additionally, our Director stated that they thought it would be best if our staff was used in direct patient care instead. Is it not directly affecting patient care when we are bringing this virus into the facility? Further, Patton State Hospital has 40% more staff members (2380), and they are doing it, so it appears there is no reason why we shouldn’t be doing the same, at the very least.

Additionally, we are lacking clear directives from our management that will result in continued outbreak in our facility and move into our communities. Our staff works all over LA County and beyond. We have just been given the option to utilize Telehealth commencing today, with the permission to come in for half the day and then do then next half at home. The problem is, we are still coming in and out of the facility, so risk of exposure is the same, and when we pointed this out and offered a 3 days in/2 days home option, we were promptly rejected. There has been a suggestion to social distance, but there is no directive and thus no reinforcement, and you’ll see staff continuing to fraternize liberally. There has also been no directive to stop pulling inmates out for evaluations, thus, some staff are still doing it and as a result, are having interviews at desks less than a few feet away from our staff. Why are our local grocery stores operating more consistent with CDC recommendations than a facility that’s supposed to be run like a hospital already in the midst of an outbreak?

On a final and very disturbing note of concern, many of our patients do not have soap and access to fresh water. And some of the inmates have limited means to be educated about this virus, and thus are not aware of ways to prevent the spread (nor can they practice the recommendations). Our director touted the signage that has been seen around the facility, but there is none available to our inmate population. I’ve seen a few more Purells around, but we are still in need of wipes, masks, and cleaning supplies for our bathrooms offices and throughout the facility. I continue to bring my own supplies and do my best to sanitize any area I encounter. Although I’m finally seeing more staff members wearing masks, I have yet to see any of my directors wearing one. If our facility is truly a Department of Health Services facility, then we ought to operate like one.

I am a mother of two young children who are home, and a husband who is immune compromised and also working outside of our home as an essential worker. I’ve committed my life to public service, and I stand by my commitment, with pride and honor. However, I am coming to you because our organization’s leaders will not listen and we need help.

We’ve submitted questions to town halls and pleaded with our directors to advocate for more proactive measures to take this matter seriously. How big will this outbreak get before it’s out of control? Look at what’s happening in Riker’s Island, is that what we want here?

Thank you for your courageous leadership in these unprecedented times. And, thank you for hearing us. We urge you to take action.

Sincerely,
M. Ahmanise Sanati, LCSW, PPSC

 

From my colleague, another Mental Health Supervisor, Felicia Hall, in the Intake Reception Center, LA County Jail

The Mental Health Team in the Intake area have received little to no accommodations to protect ourselves from COVID19, or from exposing the inmates. We work in a common area where inmates, nursing and Sheriff’s department walk through every few minutes within a few feet of our computer stations. We were not provided masks or PPE until a few days ago and supplies are limited to a few surgical masks and gloves. We were told not to wear any face coverings until one week ago, and it is elective only, with less than half the staff currently wearing PPE. We have a common break room and restrooms (two restrooms and a very small break room) for over 50 employees to utilize on a shift with no increase in cleaning. We are told we do not need PPE unless we are working with a suspected COVID19 patient, however, the only diagnostic tool is a fever 100.4 or higher. If the patient is coughing or experiencing other symptoms they are not isolated or tested and we are not provided N95 masks or other PPE for this. If a patient is on the bus or holding tank and isolated for potential COVID19, the 10+ inmates the patient was in contact with are not isolated or tested, but dispersed throughout the jail, with their names kept “on a list,” yet staff is told no PPE in these situations are needed. We are not being communicated with, our work area is open and exposed, we have been potentially exposed several times and staff concerns have been dismissed. We have been told to report to work regardless of our age or health risks. For those of us who go against the policy, we have been shamed for wearing more protective masks or other PPE we bring from home, being told we are scaring staff and the inmates. I fear for my safety and the community at large that if this highly compacted area is not protected we will create a new wave of the virus, leading to many more deaths.

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