A court-ordered takeover of California’s mismanaged prison health care system could take months longer than expected despite a federal judge’s insistence last summer that receivership was urgently needed to save lives, the San Francisco Chronicle says. Judge Thelton Henderson of federal district court in San Francisco had insisted in a dramatic series of hearings that, because of inadequate medical care, inmates were dying needlessly at the rate of one every week.
The process has been more challenging than expected, another sign of the extraordinary depth of the problems in the state’s vast prison medical system. In effect, the court has abandoned its first plan, which was to seek suitable candidates through an informal process involving the judge, the state’s lawyers, and lawyers representing inmates. It has hired a professional search firm, Korn Ferry International, stretching out the timetable. “We tried hard, but it was hopelessly amateurish,” said Donald Specter, the executive director of the Prison Law Office, a public interest law group that filed the class-action suit on behalf of inmates that produced the settlement mandating changes in the health care system. “Nobody we talked to had all the qualifications. The more we found out, the more questions we had.” Because of the coming holiday season, interviews and selection under Korn Ferry might not begin until early 2006, and it could take months more for a receiver to take over if the person has to move to California or leave another job.