Under a settlement of a lawsuit reached last year, the hospital agreed to phase out 210 of 304 patients, most diagnosed with schizophrenia, in the civil section over four years. The forensic section, for people accused of crimes, will be unaffected.And in California, mental health workers, physicians, and pharmacists are rapidly shifting from hospital jobs to prison jobs, where pay is a remarkable 40% more. The result is significant staff shortages at the hospitals.
Although several of the state hospitals still accept patients committed through the civil courts, the vast majority of mental hospital patients statewide now are channeled through the criminal justice system … Abysmal medical and mental-health care in the state's prisons prompted federal overseers in two separate lawsuits to order the soaring pay increases as a way of luring competent clinicians to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.The California debacle leaves Atascadero State Hospital with only 30% of its allotted psychiatrists. (And now the prisoners who are supremely ill and require inpatient psychiatric care cannot get transferred into Atascadero – and are being sent straight back to prisons, where hopefully all those newly hired medical professionals will find a way to treat them …)
It would be nice if the recent surge in concern over improving prison mental health care was paralleled by a concern for improving care in inpatient psychiatric hospitals. Alas, it seems that the search for quality inpatient beds is being totally abandoned in lieu of improving prison and other forensic beds.
As today’s Washington Post notes:
Patient advocates say the long-term solution to the problem is simple: Make
more beds available. ... [As one expert says] "There is no more expensive way to access the mental health system than through the court system.”