Correctional officers stand watch over an inmate receiving treatment in the emergency room at California State Prison, Corcoran, in Corcoran, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009. A federal court-appointed receiver says the state needs to pay $8 billion to upgrade prison's medical and mental health care.
The Schwarzenegger administration wants the University of California to manage medical care at state prisons. The change could improve care and save the government about $12 billion over the next decade. KPCC’s Julie Small reports.
Under the proposal the University of California would manage dental, medical and psychiatric care in the state’s 33 prisons.
A consultant for the state says the plan would save money by reducing prison staff. One way the plan accomplishes that is increasing the use of telemedicine.
Psychiatrists and doctors at UC medical facilities would provide care to inmates remotely — using cameras and laptops.
"So these are people who could be at any location and we don’t have to worry about whether they live close to the prison or not" said Sharon Aungst, the Chief Deputy Secretary for Healthcare for California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Aungst says telemedicine lessens the challenge of recruiting doctors to work in far flung prisons — something that’s been very hard to do.
"Secondly it cuts down on the space we have to have in the prison for offices for all of the physicians."
Prisons would still need doctors and nurses working inside. Under the proposal those people might become UC employees.
Those details will get worked out down the line says Dr. John Stobo, the University of California’s senior vice president of health sciences and services.
"I’ve seen it done in a way where the quality of care is increased," Stobo says, "and it’s done in a cost effective way.
Stobo’s talking about the program he oversaw at the University of Texas in the 1990’s. That’s when the University’s medical branch began providing care to 125,000 inmates. Texas now spends about half what California spends on prison medical care.
Dr. Stobo thinks the University of California’s has a good opportunity here.
"As a public institution and a public trust we have a responsibility and commitment to address the health needs of California." Stobo says. "Particularly the health needs of medically underserved populations in California.
Dr. Stobo considers prisoners in California an underserved population. He’ll present the proposal to the UC Regents at their meeting next Thursday.