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She was never given a response in writing, she says. “When they’d say they couldn’t afford it, I’d look for cheaper ways to do it, for temporary solutions.”
She sent letters to supervisors Donna Brecker, Mike Ross and Nicholas Vainas, as well as to Williams. She gave statistics and detailed various temporary and permanent solutions to the problems. Some suggested moving patients from this area to this or that building, and she outlined how to do so effectively. She naively assumed, she says, that by going through the proper chain of command, her supervisors were taking her concerns to OCSD, who would need to work with the HCA to approve any facilities changes.
“All I wanted to do was bring the women’s area up to the same standards of care as the men’s for the female patients and nurses who worked there,” Matthews says. “I used to tell them, ‘Please, please, just fix it, because if you don’t, people are going to sue when this comes out in the news. They’re going to sue for loss of relatives or children or for their right to have an adequate medical area.’”
Months went by, and nothing happened. At another training meeting, Matthews met HCA inspector Sam Love. “He said he was very interested in keeping the place a safe place, and if we had an issue that wasn’t being taken care of by our supervisors, to contact him,” she says.
She wrote to him repeatedly until he finally responded and agreed to come for a visit. On the day he came, in November 2001, medical director Williams was seeing patients, so Love was given a short tour by Matthews and supervisor Brecker. “Three or four patients were screaming. [Love’s] eyes were absolutely huge, like a deer caught in headlights,” Matthews says. She then took him to the glass-protected psychiatric unit in the men’s jail and the quiet men’s infirmary in the separate building.
“He saw a big difference and definitely agreed that it needed to be changed and brought to the same standards as the men’s jail,” she says. Love helped Matthews craft a memo in early 2002, which Matthews then, per Love’s direction, directly delivered it to the sheriff’s lieutenant overseeing the women’s jail at that time, Deana Bergquist. Matthews says she told her supervisors about the memo. Love is no longer an HCA employee; attempts to reach him for this story were unsuccessful.
Matthews says supervisor Vainas told her that the sheriff’s captain overseeing the entire jail complex at that time was furious about Love’s visit.
Not long after, Matthews met with Lieutenant Bergquist. “She seemed to agree with the concerns I had,” she says. Matthews says, however, that she felt pressured by her supervisors to tell Bergquist that everything had been fixed, but she refused to do so.
Vainas, who was the nurse manager at the time and is now retired, says he was familiar with Matthews, but had little direct contact with her. He doesn’t remember her raising any concerns about the women’s facilities. “I really don’t want to comment on any of that,” he says.
OCSD did not approve repeated requests by the Weekly to speak with Bergquist. Requests for comment on whether the jail would consider a new redistribution plan were not responded to by the sheriff’s department. Captain Tim Board, who now oversees the central jail, said that any future facilities changes would need to be approved and most likely paid for by OCSD.
During her tenure, Matthews continued to send letters. One day, she says, she was approached by a deputy who asked if she would be available to help the sheriff’s department out with the female redistribution plan they were working on. “I was shocked,” she says. “I had no idea this was going on; my bosses had never told me.” For months, Matthews worked during her days off, after work and during her vacation on different layouts, plans and schedules for the moving of patients and modifications to their housing areas.
Then, in an abrupt memo sent by a supervisor in October 2002, she was notified that OCSD had put the redistribution plan “on the back burner” because of budgetary constraints. The department had to complete the remodeling of a building at the men’s Theo Lacy Jail in Orange, the e-mail said. The redistribution proposal would be revisited, it said, in three to five years.
“We sometimes say that if you’re a type-A personality and you work hard, then you are not rewarded,” says jail nurse “Karyn.” “That’s the type of people they don’t want around, and Teresa was exactly what they don’t want: someone who wanted to change, who wanted to makes things better.”