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Lompoc prison leaders unveil new hospital wing; all low-security inmates to be tested for COVID-19
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Lompoc prison leaders unveil new hospital wing; all low-security inmates to be tested for COVID-19

The Lompoc federal prison complex is set to open a new hospital wing that was constructed in less than a month in response to a significant COVID-19 outbreak, and prison leaders also announced Tuesday that they intend to administer coronavirus tests to every inmate in the low-security portion of the facility.

The new Hospital Care Unit is located within a decommissioned prison industry factory and is set to begin accepting patients on Wednesday, May 6. The institution’s first positive COVID-19 inmate case was confirmed on March 31, and more than 100 cases — and one death — have been reported since among inmates and staff. At one point, the Lompoc prison had more confirmed cases than any other federal prison in the U.S.

Prison officials began making plans to build the new hospital unit on April 9.

“[Federal Correctional Complex] Lompoc and Bureau of Prisons staff from throughout the western region are commended for the extraordinary amount of work and completing the project in an unprecedented amount of time,” read a portion of a statement from the Bureau of Prisons public affairs office.

The Lompoc prison complex is a medium-security facility. The transformation from office space to working hospital, according to prison officials, included a complete renovation that involved gutting the existing floor and wall coverings, replacing duct work, upgrading electric lines, installing showers and building a nurses station.

The Hospital Care Unit consists of 10 double-occupancy acute care treatment rooms with negative pressure, a patient intake room, pharmacy, linen exchange room, biohazard room, and medical supply and storage.

“Several areas were retrofitted to accommodate an officers station, a staff lounge and staff locker room, complete with shower stalls for use to mitigate the risk of exposure to infectious diseases, including COVID-19,” the Bureau of Prisons reported.

Prison leaders negotiated a contract for medical personnel, including doctors, registered nurses, paramedics, a pharmacist, physician assistants, nurse assistants and a clinical manager, who is slated to work in conjunction with prison health services staff.

Thanks to the new hospital unit, coronavirus cases that had previously required outside hospitalization will now be able to be treated within the prison, "minimizing the impact on the community and further ensuring public safety," according to the Bureau of Prisons.

A ceremony was held Friday, May 1, to dedicate the Hospital Care Unit.

As of Tuesday, there had been 85 confirmed COVID-19 cases among inmates at the Lompoc prison facility, plus an additional 25 cases among staff.

Oliver M. Boling, a 66-year-old inmate who was serving a 71-year sentence, was reported as the first person to die from COVID-19 at the Lompoc prison. Boling reportedly had pre-existing health conditions.

The number of confirmed cases is expected to rise as prison officials administer COVID-19 tests to each of the inmates in the Federal Correction Institution, which is the low-security component of the prison complex.

The tests, according to the Bureau of Prisons, will be administered by health services staff and the prison has contracted with a private company for lab work.

"This robust testing will assist FCI Lompoc in slowing transmission by identifying those asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals who may be carrying the virus unknowingly, and separating them from those who test negative, thus preventing these COVID-positive inmates from transmitting the virus to others," the Bureau of Prisons reported.

"This is a key factor to mitigating the spread of COVID-19," the statement continued. "An additional benefit and expected outcome of this proactive strategy is to shorten the overall quarantine period during the span of the pandemic."

In an effort to employ social-distancing among inmates, prison officials reported that they have placed more than 250 beds in alternative housing to create space and serve as quarantine locations.

Additionally, the prison has restricted inmate use of telephone and email stations in what prison officials describe as a safety measure.

"The institution recognizes how important it is to maintain family contact during these uncertain times," read a statement from the Bureau of Prisons. "As such, inmate friends and families are strongly encouraged to continue corresponding by mailing letters through the U.S. Postal Service."

The Lompoc prison complex houses 979 male inmates.

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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Jimmie Lee Houston, 75, was initially evaluated by prison health services staff on April 8, according to the Bureau of Prisons, and was transported to an area hospital for treatment due to a low oxygen saturation level. He reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 and was placed on a ventilator on April 11. He died Wednesday.

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