California’s prison medical system “may simply collapse” unless a federal judge orders immediate fixes, a temporary overseer warned yesterday, reports the Sacramento Bee. Court-appointed expert John Hagar recommended pay raises for medical workers, effective next month, and drastic streamlining of “cumbersome, bureaucratic” hiring procedures to reverse an exodus of doctors and nurses that is causing “meltdown” in prison health care. The recommendations were in a report filed with U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson. Henderson assigned Hagar to oversee stopgap reforms while the judge seeks a receiver – an official who would try to bring the prison medical system into compliance with constitutional standards for humane care.
Henderson has said that medical malpractice or negligence was responsible for one prison death each week on average. He said the prisons were plagued by inadequate medical staffing, red tape, and personnel procedures that protected dangerous doctors and nurses. The court has signed a contract with an international head-hunting firm to search for an individual or organization with qualifications to serve as the receiver for the billion-dollar, 165,000-prisoner system. Yesterday, state corrections chief Roderick Q. Hickman blamed the legislature for blocking a state proposal to hire outside experts who would initiate systemic changes. Judge Henderson has reserved a decision on whether to hold correctional officials in contempt of court, but said he would use that power if they balked at reforms or failed to eliminate bureaucratic barriers.