Salinas Valley Mental Health Unit Understaffed, Overseer Finds
The mental health unit at Salinas Valley State Prison in Monterey County is understaffed and faces other problems that affect patient treatment, according to a court-appointed overseer, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Elias, AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/26).
In 2006, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that federal oversight of the prison system was needed after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of medical malpractice or neglect.
In April, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton rejected Gov. Jerry Brown's (D) request to end federal oversight of the state's prison health care system (California Healthline, 4/8).
Later, Karlton ordered an investigation of prison-based mental health care facilities managed by the California Department of State Hospitals after lawyers representing California state inmates asked him to expand oversight to include DSH.
In an August report, a team of experts said health care services at Salinas Valley still were "incomplete and fragmented." They also described the health care facilities at the prison as "filthy" (California Healthline, 8/26).
Details of Staffing Shortage
In January, nine psychiatrists at the facility wrote in a letter to the unit's executive director that they were working "under protest" because of heavy workloads and low morale.
In February, the doctors sent a separate letter stating that the "staffing shortage has devolved from serious to crisis level" because three of them were planning to resign. Since then, all nine doctors have left the facility, according to court filings.
In September, the overseer said only five of the 20 psychiatrist positions at Salinas Valley had been filled.
Last week, a federal overseer said Salinas Valley psychiatrists were handling twice the number of caseloads that they were responsible for the previous year.
In addition, the overseer said Salinas Valley had:
- A shortage of clean linens and undergarments; and
- Problems with security protocols.
Response From Prison Officials
In a court filing this month, hospital and prison officials denied that prisoners at Salinas Valley were receiving inadequate care.
Pam Ahlin -- interim executive director of the Salinas Valley facility -- said that the psychiatric program since May "has implemented new policies and has overall improved the quality of care to inmate-patients."
Ahlin added that the program "continues to implement new processes that will further improve care."
She also said that eight, full-time psychiatrists are employed at the facility and that each has an acceptable case load (AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/26).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.