Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lawsuits target ventilation systems at Coalinga State Hospital

By Chris Collins / The Fresno Bee

The air conditioning and ventilation systems at Coalinga State Hospital are in disrepair and have endangered the health of the facility's patients, according to two recent lawsuits.

One suit says that dead birds were found in the ventilation system.

The lawsuits raise questions about California's newest mental health hospital, a $388 million facility that opened in 2005 and houses sexually violent predators.

The lawsuits, both filed by Santa Monica attorney David Feldman in September in Fresno County Superior Court, say the hospital's ventilation system does not allow clean air to circulate and hospital staffers have failed to conduct necessary inspections.

Hospital spokeswoman Deborah Ireland said Monday that she could not comment on the lawsuits.

In the first lawsuit, patient Dougal Samuels, a 55-year-old man with an unspecified mental disease, says he began coughing, losing his appetite and having chills in April 2006. Four months later, after his condition worsened, a hospital doctor diagnosed him with Valley fever.

Samuels was later diagnosed with pneumonia. X-rays showed a large black mass in his right lung area. The hospital scheduled an MRI, but one was never done, according to the lawsuit.

In April 2007, Samuels told staffers that he was in so much pain that he could not sit up. Two months later, an MRI at a hospital in San Luis Obispo showed that Samuels' spine was inflamed and was destroying his vertebrae, the lawsuit says.

Samuels needed immediate surgery. He had a disc removed and was put into a body cast.

The lawsuit says that Coalinga State Hospital knew that Valley fever could spread through its ventilation system but did not take necessary precautions.

The second lawsuit says that patient Kurt Parker, a 41-year-old man with an unspecified mental impairment, was one of two patients to contract a dangerous flu that had spread because the ventilation system was not properly maintained.
The lawsuit says that "dead birds were allowed to accumulate in the ventilation system, resulting in the spreading of bacteria."

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