Staff Shortages Put Strain on Mental Health Hospitals
Five lawmakers on Tuesday wrote a letter urging the Legislature's budget chairs to address the recent staff shortages at state mental health facilities, the Los Angeles Times reports. Each lawmaker has a facility in his or her district (Gold/Romney, Los Angeles Times, 3/28).
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton in December 2006 ordered steep pay increases for prison psychiatrists as part of an ongoing class-action lawsuit involving prison mental health care. As a result, all state mental hospitals reported staff vacancies as workers left to fill prison openings (California Healthline, 3/22).
The lawmakers called the shortage "a crisis of meltdown proportions." The letter was sent by:
- Assembly member Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa);
- Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa);
- Sen. Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria);
- Assembly member Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo); and
- Assembly member Lois Wolk (D-Davis) (Los Angeles Times, 3/28).
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) last week ordered pay increases for psychiatrists and other care providers working at state mental health facilities to help compete with prison salaries. The raise for DMH psychiatrists will be within 5% of salaries for prison psychiatrists, while other positions' pay will be raised within 18% of the prison rate (California Healthline, 3/22).
However, the lawmakers said, "Even if immediate action is taken to reverse the brain drain to prisons, it is conservatively estimated that it will take two to three years for treatment conditions to normalize to resemble adequate care" (Los Angeles Times, 3/28).
The staff shortage at Atascadero State Hospital in San Luis Obispo forced the facility in January to stop accepting new patients. The decision affected 256 patient beds that were set aside for inmates in custody of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Curran, San Luis Obispo Tribune, 3/27).
The shortage prompted inmate rights lawyers to file a motion on Friday asking U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton to order the Mental Health Department to immediately hire enough staff to reopen all 256 beds within 30 days. According to the lawsuit, the hospital in February was only treating 110 corrections department patients.
Karlton on April 23 is scheduled to hold a hearing on the case (San Luis Obispo Tribune, 3/22).