State psychiatrist urges US Attorney General to investigate CA mental health facility

A psychiatrist who treats mentally ill prisoners in California has asked the U.S. Attorney General to investigate conditions at the Salinas Valley Psychiatric Program. 

The Department of State Hospitals runs the acute care program, which provides treatment to more than 300 prisoners in California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

In a letter dated March 22, staff psychiatrist Dr. Joel Badeaux said the facility is critically understaffed. In January and February of this year, he said, staff psychiatrists sent letters to the executive director of the program warning that vacancies “had resulted in perilous conditions.”

Badeaux said administrators failed to take action and the situation worsened. 

Badeaux said nine of the staff psychiatrists working at the unit two months ago have quit, gone on leave or will transfer to new positions by the end of April, yet the facility continues to admit patients for treatment.

Attorney for inmates filed a copy of Badeaux’s letter with the U.S. Eastern District Court on the eve of Wednesday's hearing regarding whether California prison officials can re-take control of  prison mental health care, which has been under federal oversight.

Ralph Montaño, with the Department of State Hospitals said Wednesday that the agency "is committed to providing evaluation and treatment in a safe, responsible manner. "

He acknowledged that several psychiatrists at the facility have retired and others are departing, but said, "It is inaccurate to judge the quality of care solely by the number of psychiatrists on staff," when they are part of a much larger team that provides mental health care.

Montaño said the DSH is working  to fill the vacancies  as quickly as possible. 

In his letter, Badeaux criticized California Department of Corrections restrictions on drugs commonly used to calm potentially violent patients and control severe side effects of anti-psychotics. He also pointed to a lack of necessities, such as soap and blankets.

In November 2012, Badeaux said, an inmate committed suicide — the first  in the facility’s history: “I am writing in hopes that the U.S. Department of Justice can provide urgent assistance and prevent further needless injury and death."

In 1990, inmates sued California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for failing to provide adequate mental health care. More than a decade ago, a federal court appointed a special master who monitors and advises the state on psychiatric care.

State attorneys filed a motion in January to end the oversight. 

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