By Sirikunkrittaphuk /

Federal Prisons System Opens Hospital at New Coronavirus Hotspot 

The hospital will treat inmates at a correctional complex in Santa Barbara County, Calif. 

The Federal Bureau of Prisons opened a hospital at a California facility last week that now has the most inmate novel coronavirus cases among BOP locations. 

A hospital care unit at the Federal Correctional Complex in Lompoc, California, opened on May 6 that was built in less than four weeks in response to the pandemic. The hospital unit was funded by BOP and headed up by the Western Regional Office along with staff at the Lompoc correctional complex. BOP began planning for the hospital in early April, following the location’s first confirmed coronavirus case in late March. “Based on the size of the inmate population, the epidemic curve projected a high volume of cases, which would require a level of hospitalization the local community would be unable to meet,” said BOP

As of late Monday afternoon, the low-security correctional institution in Lompoc (FCI Lompoc) has the most open coronavirus cases (891) among inmates across the 122 BOP locations; 11 staff members there have also tested positive. Twenty inmates and three staff have recovered and there have been no deaths among either group so far. The medium-security penitentiary with an adjacent satellite camp, also part of FCC Lompoc, has 21 open inmates cases and 14 staff ones. There have been two inmate deaths. So far, 93 inmates and six staff have recovered, according to BOP’s online tracker.  

The hospital care unit is located inside a decommissioned prison industry factory within the medium-security section of FCC Lompoc. It has 10-double occupancy treatment rooms with negative pressure capacities, nurses' stations, a pharmacy, a linen exchange room, a patient intake area, a biohazard room, a medical supply and storage unit, an officers’ station, and staff lounge and locker rooms. 

“FCC Lompoc's acute care unit will be staffed with 24 contracted medical personnel, including doctors, physician assistants, nurses, paramedics, a pharmacist and a clinical manager,”  BOP spokesman Justin Long said. “FCC Lompoc's Health Services clinicians will coordinate with contract personnel as appropriate on all aspects of institution operations.” As of now, only Lompoc inmates will be treated at this facility and, so far, BOP has no plans to build more hospitals. 

John Kostelnik, Western regional vice president for the Council of Prison Locals C-33, a division of the American Federation of Government Employees, told Government Executive that while officials are not sure if this will be a permanent facility, it will definitely be up the rest of the year and potentially longer. The hospital was a “joint collective effort” between the union, BOP management and BOP staff from Lompoc and other locations. “We really shined,” he said. 

As the hospital was about to open, BOP said on May 5 that FCI Lompoc began testing all inmates.The majority of BOP inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 are not exhibiting outward symptoms or ill-effects, and do not require hospitalization,” Long said. “While FCI Lompoc is not the only institution in the BOP's Western Region testing 100% of its inmates, universal testing is not occurring at every institution in the BOP's Western Region, nor is the Western Region the only region with some institutions testing 100% of inmates.” In addition to Lompoc, BOP announced on May 7 it is expanding coronavirus testing at pre-trial detention and quarantine centers. 

Throughout the pandemic, there has been bipartisan concern over how the BOP is protecting staff and inmates and various internal and external complaints filed by the union. Additionally, Rep. Fred Keller, R-Pa., introduced legislation on May 1 that would require the BOP director to receive Senate confirmation following “years of out of control spending and actions that run counter to institutional safety, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. 

“Through all this negativity, through all the bad stuff that's going on...we're still moving forward,” said Kostelnik, expressing his pride for the hospital. “We're going to keep doing our jobs, regardless.”