California prison health care employees work long hours, says the Sacramento Bee. Many average 12 hours a day; others routinely log 16- to 18-hour shifts for months on end, creating a costly overtime free-for-all in this budget-strapped state. An abundance of forced and voluntary overtime has driven some nurses beyond human endurance. The long hours have opened the door for deadly lapses in a health care system just beginning to recover from decades of neglect. One employee said she had seen workers “sleeping at their posts – heavily, snoring, full sleep. They don’t even notice people walking by. It’s pretty common.”
A Bee investigation found that lax recruitment, worsened by the state budget crisis, and programs such as one for the suicidal that’s exploited by savvy inmates, have contributed to extreme staff work schedules. Officials have tolerated the practice despite criticism about the price of prison health care, which cost more than $2.1 billion in the year ending in June 2008. California prisons last year spent $60 million on health care overtime. That doesn’t count an additional $111 million in overtime for guards who protect on- and off-site health workers during medical appointments – more than double the amount being spent when the receiver took over. Rampant overtime, mostly for nurses, is the norm, accounting for nearly 20 percent of all wages for prison nursing care.