Lawmakers Seek Action on Staff Shortages at Mental Health Hospitals
With workers at California's mental health hospitals increasingly jumping ship for better-paying jobs at state prisons, several lawmakers this week urged the Legislature to address the vacancies.
Since a federal judge in December raised the salaries for prison mental health workers -- including a $100,000 raise for psychologists -- Sacramento largely has been silent on the issue. Legislators and state officials took no action as the vacancy rate for hospital mental health professionals climbed to a staggering 43%, forcing one hospital, Atascadero, to put a freeze on patient admissions.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) last week finally stepped in and ordered pay raises for hospital workers, but they still would fall short of prison salaries, in some cases 18% less. That was not enough for some lawmakers who criticized the governor's efforts as too little, too late. A bipartisan group of five lawmakers this week in a letter to the Legislature's budget chairs wrote that it will take two to three years for hospitals to reach an acceptable operating level.
Meanwhile, several lawmakers this week focused on key measures pending before the Legislature, including a bill to include private medical or health care records under a law regarding security breaches and a bill to provide nurse practitioners greater autonomy to operate clinics.