State Mental Hospital Suit Focuses on Pay Increases, Staffing
Lawyers representing inmates with mental illnesses on Monday will request that a federal judge order the state to submit a more detailed corrective action plan to address the increasing staff shortages at state mental health facilities, the Los Angeles Times reports.
A state plan submitted to U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton proposed hiring a headhunter to recruit staff and offering pay raises to hospital workers.
However, attorneys say the plan would apply only to existing workers and not new recruits, and still would fall short of salary levels for similar positions at state prisons.
Department of Mental Health officials say the plan is adequate to address the shortages. Department officials say state mental health facilities have operated in violation of both state and federal regulations and compromised patient safety because of the staff shortages.
Karlton could require the state to submit a new plan within five days, according to the Times (Romney/Gold, Los Angeles Times, 4/23).
The action comes as the latest turn in an ongoing lawsuit over the quality of mental health services for California inmates. Karlton in late 2006 ordered steep pay increases for prison psychiatrists as part of an ongoing class-action lawsuit involving prison mental health care.
After the prison pay increases took effect, DMH psychiatrists were paid at least $100,000 less than prison psychiatrists. The pay differential led many DMH care providers to seek employment in state prisons, a trend that pushed staff vacancy rates at state mental hospitals to about 43% (California Healthline, 3/22).
The attorneys have requested that Karlton require salary increases equal to his prison increases (Los Angeles Times, 4/23).
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) last month 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).