Report exposes fumbled COVID-19 response at Coyote Ridge Correctional Facility

Published by The Seattle Times on Monday, the report details a nightmarish scenario at Coyote Ridge.
Coyote Ridge
Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, Connell

KENNEWICK, Wash. — Roughly 40 minutes outside of the Tri-Cities is Coyote Ridge Correctional Facility; home to some of the most egregious mishandling of a COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

A state watchdog report published by Mike Reicher and Joseph O’Sullivan at The Seattle Times spilled details on the monthslong failure to contain this outbreak. A minimum- and medium-security facility in Franklin County, Coyote Ridge Correctional Facility saw 277 prisoners and 73 staff members infected earlier this year. Those infections resulted in the deaths of two prisoners, the report indicates.

One prisoner who began to exhibit symptoms requested a health check to prison staff, but wasn’t seen or tended to until developing a 102-degree fever four days later. By the point that he was isolated, the prisoner was fully infected and exposed other inmates.

Coyote Ridge staff defied mask mandates implemented in April, carpooled to the facility for their shifts and blamed management. Considering the fact that prisoners don’t get access to the outside world, it’s believed that staff members carried the coronavirus into the facility and exposed the inmates.

RELATED: 225 inmates, 54 employees at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center test positive for COVID-19

Further precautions were taken to protect those in the high-risk ward. According to the report, about a fifth of the occupants at Coyote Ridge are considered elderly and in need of assisted living. Staff protected them with social distancing guidelines and mask mandates that never reached the main facility, where dozens were infected with COVID-19.

To make matters worse, trained medical professionals were either absent or weren’t taken seriously during the process. For example, the facility medical director for Coyote Ridge was out of the office for 89 percent of workdays in June and 62 percent in July. These crucial months were at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak at this facility, leaving the dirty work to people like the Department of Corrections Chief Medical Officer, Sara Kariko.

Kariko found herself stuck within the confines of the position, limiting forward-thinking medical decisions to stick with protocols. Ultimately, there didn’t seem to be much decision-making going on at the facility as COVID-19 ravaged the inmates.

One of the most blatant examples of a fumbled response came at the expense of a 72-year-old inmate who died at Kadlec Regional Medical Center. Five days after being admitted, a nurse repeatedly reached out to Coyote Ridge for consent to perform a medical procedure. Coyote Ridge never got back to her and when the situation became dire, they proceeded without consent. Four days later, the man died in the hospital.

RELATED: Washington launches statewide COVID-19 notification app

Keep in mind, this is only a segment of the details expressed in Reicher and O’Sullivan’s piece for The Seattle Times.