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Female inmate still comatose

Dorothy Palinchik’s family is convinced she contracted a staph infection in county jail.

Dorothy Palinchik’s family is convinced she contracted a staph infection in county jail.

Dorothy Palinchik, who became critically ill during a stint at the Pinellas County Jail, remained in a coma Wednesday evening at Largo Medical Center.

Her mother said there was some slight improvement in her daughter's skin color and she hoped the strong antibiotics would start to work.

Palinchik's family said she is suffering from the staph infection MRSA and a severe case of pneumonia.

Pinellas County Sheriff's Office officials said they couldn't comment on the 42-year-old inmate's medical treatment. But they said the presence of MRSA is an ongoing concern.

In an interview Wednesday, Sheriff Jim Coats said keeping inmates healthy is a constant struggle for jail employees.

"Most of the individuals that are booked into our county jail have had little or no health care maintenance in their life," Coats said. "We're responsible for their care, and a lot of time we don't have their medical history to adequately treat them for any illness they may or may not have had in the past."

Palinchik was booked into the jail the night before Valentine's Day, charged with stealing a $9 Philly cheesesteak from Publix. Less than 10 days later she was gravely ill.

Her mother, sister and boyfriend claim the jail ignored Palinchik's complaints and condition. They say she was healthy when she entered the jail and that she contracted MRSA in the facility.

The Sheriff's Office is carrying out an internal investigation, which it said is standard in cases where an inmate becomes so ill.

Pinellas jail officials say they deal with MRSA every day. Sometimes inmates carry the infection in; other times they can acquire it in jail.

But unlike illnesses such as tuberculosis, MRSA need not be reported to county or state health departments unless there is an outbreak.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said there hadn't been any outbreaks of MRSA in the jail and the cases that do exist were "individual in nature."

Health experts say it is difficult to tell where someone contracts an MRSA infection because it can be carried for weeks or longer without causing illness in its carrier.

MRSA is a term used to describe staph infections that do not respond to certain antibiotics. The main means of transmission is through skin contact, particularly dirty hands.

It's a problem not only for jails but also for hospitals, schools, locker rooms, nursing homes and other places with crowded living quarters and questionable sanitation.

The Pinellas County Jail has established a protocol to deal with contagious infections such as MRSA. All inmates coming into the jail are screened by a nurse.

If an MRSA case is identified at any point during the inmate's stay, the inmate is isolated and any items or surfaces he or she touched are sanitized by specially trained inmates with protective gear and disinfectant spray.

Each case is also reported to the infection control nurse who supervises the efforts across the facility.

The jail has made progress in the last year or so in easing overcrowding and the problems that come along with it, such as MRSA, Pasha said.

The latest inmate count showed 3,457 on Wednesday, which is only slightly above the design capacity of 3,327. In previous years, the jail saw as many 3,800 inmates crowding into a complex designed for 2,400 people.

But even with a new 432-bed, $35-million medical wing, infections like MRSA always will be a concern in the close quarters of a jail, especially with so many people cycling in and out of the facility, Pasha said

The presence of MRSA has become a "daily issue" for attorneys and staff members who work in the jail, according to Bob Dillinger, the public defender for Pasco and Pinellas.

"We never even knew what it was a couple of years ago," Dillinger said. "Now we hear it all the time."

Dillinger said his interviewers circulate throughout the jail seven days a week and are often approached by sick inmates asking for medical care. But, to his knowledge, Palinchik never flagged anyone in his office. She was scheduled to go to court this past Monday, but never made it.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Female inmate still comatose 02/27/08 [Last modified: Thursday, February 28, 2008 1:28am]

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