SEATTLE – The Washington state Medical Commission has indefinitely suspended the license of a former head doctor at a prison in Monroe, citing evidence of inadequate care that harmed incarcerated people.
Dr. Julia Barnett was fired in April 2019 by the state Department of Corrections after the agency’s internal probe found six prison inmates – including three who died – had suffered because of inadequate care she provided or supervised.
The medical commission’s long-running investigation basically supported the DOC’s earlier findings regarding Barnett, who had been hired despite lacking some qualifications for the prison medical director position, the Seattle Times reported.
Barnett committed unprofessional conduct, including “incompetence, negligence, or malpractice which results in injury to a patient or creates an unreasonable risk that a patient may be harmed…” according to a statement of charges signed by the medical commission’s executive director, Melanie de Leon.
Among the incidents cited was the case of a person with a degenerative lung condition who died in August 2018 gasping for air, with inadequate treatment and no attempt to bring in a specialist or seek advanced care at a hospital.
“The delay in care caused (him) to suffer unnecessarily,” the commission investigation found in that death case.
Another inmate died in August 2018 from an infected surgical wound after “substandard care,” including failure to diagnose and treat problems, according to the investigation.
In its Nov. 16 order, the commission found “an immediate danger to the public health and safety” and ordered Barnett to surrender her license to practice as a physician and surgeon in Washington.
Barnett can request a hearing to dispute that decision, said Stephanie Mason, a commission spokesperson.
An attorney for Barnett, D. Jeffrey Burnham, declined to comment on Thursday.
Barnett has appealed her firing and defended her medical care in a response to the commission last year, describing the Monroe prison infirmary as short-staffed and “a problematic place to care for sick people.” She also said she had raised concerns about conditions including ventilation problems and inadequate heating and air conditioning.
She was being paid $260,000 a year at the time of her firing. Her appeal is still pending before the state Personnel Resources Board.
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