Whom should the public hold responsible for runaway overtime costs for prison health care?
The governor and California's dysfunctional Legislature are largely to blame, followed by a prison health care bureaucracy overseen by a federal receiver who has failed to protect taxpayers.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers consistently approve budgets that understate the true cost of prison health care, and therefore understate the numbers of nurses, nurse assistants, clinicians, doctors and others who are needed to provide the minimum care required under the state and U.S. constitutions. That in turn leads to the eye-popping overtime costs The Bee's Charles Piller documented in his recent report.
The Bee's review of prison health care overtime charges revealed nurses who routinely worked 12-, 16- and 18-hour days and 80-hour weeks for months at a time.
Exhausted nurses pose a threat to inmate patients and cost the public a bundle. Collectively, California prison nurses earned $60 million in overtime in 2008.
For years, lawmakers and the Schwarzenegger administration have low-balled the cost of California's dangerously overcrowded prisons. The state houses, feeds and provides health care services for 167,000 inmates, twice the number the correctional system was designed to hold. Then the state leaders negotiate and ratify labor contracts that allow nurses and other prison health care providers to work as much overtime as they want. That compounds the problems and increases the costs.
Clearly, access to health care behind bars has improved since 2006 when a federal judge ordered a receiver to take over California's dangerously inadequate prison health care system. Incompetent doctors were ousted and more and better health care providers were hired.
To read the complete editorial, visit The Sacramento Bee.