The Washington Medical Commission has indefinitely suspended the license of the former head doctor at Monroe Correctional Complex, citing evidence of inadequate care that harmed incarcerated people.

Dr. Julia Barnett was fired in April 2019 by the state Department of Corrections (DOC) after the agency’s internal probe found six inmates at the prison — including three who died — had suffered due to inadequate care she provided or supervised.

The medical commission’s long-running investigation essentially backed the DOC’s earlier findings regarding Barnett, who had been hired despite lacking some qualifications for the position of prison medical director.

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.

Dr. Julia Barnett was fired as facility medical director at the state prison in Monroe in 2019. (Washington Medical Commission)
Dr. Julia Barnett was fired as facility medical director at the state prison in Monroe in 2019. (Washington Medical Commission)

Among the incidents cited by the commission and DOC was the case of a 40-year-old inmate at the Monroe prison who was left untreated for several days in 2018 after he stuck a pencil in his urethra, leading to a perforated bladder. Barnett had ordered no treatment as long as the man could still urinate.

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In another case, a 57-year-old man with a degenerative lung condition 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.

“While [the patient’s] condition was ultimately likely to be terminal, the delay in care caused [him] to suffer unnecessarily,” the commission investigation found in that case.

And a 55-year-old 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 hand over 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.

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Barnett has appealed her firing and previously 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 there, including ventilation problems and inadequate heating and air conditioning.

Her appeal is still pending before the state Personnel Resources Board.

Barnett was hired by DOC in March 2017 and was promoted to medical director at the Monroe prison even though she lacked some stated qualifications for the job: completion of an approved residency and board certification.

She was being paid $260,000 a year at the time of her firing.

In internal messages last year, some top DOC medical officials described the care some inmates at the prison had received under Barnett’s management as “shocking” and “negligence.”

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But DOC has come under criticism and scrutiny over the past couple of years for medical lapses that go beyond issues with Barnett or any single prison.

Delays in cancer care and diagnosis have led to premature inmate deaths and spurred lawsuits and legal settlements.

Allegations of faulty health care are the top complaints raised by inmates and their families, according to a report last year by the Office of the Corrections Ombuds.

DOC says it has made improvements, including strengthening appeals processes for inmates with medical concerns and hiring of a new chief quality officer. The agency also has sought additional funding for nurses and other personnel.