The University of North Carolina, known for its NCAA collegiate championship basketball program, and is the alma mater of Dr. George Beatty, one of San Quentin’s medical physicians.
The university campus at Chapel Hill is a diversified southern school with opportunistic programs designed for an adventurous student body. “I’ve got two undergraduate degrees, one in Biology and another in Psychology, a Master’s Degree in Public Health and my medical degree, but I basically left the university with four degrees and no real work-related experience,” said Dr. Beatty.
“My quest for success was not to exploit the corporate medical profession for the monetary benefits. I wanted to make an impact. I needed to feel like I had a complete day,” he said.
After graduation from medical school, Dr. Beatty did his residency at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), where he was active in research medicine and academia for several years, but the urge to explore other medical practices made him restless.
Setting up a medical practice and hanging out a shingle for the rich, famous and high-profile clientele just didn’t fit the character of a southern gentleman whose growth and development came from his upbringing. His parents, both civil rights activists in the 60s, instilled him with the courage to appreciate the relationships he would develop with Blacks and other ethnicities in North Carolina.
Taking advantage of his training at UCSF, “I wanted to go where medicine was needed.” During the George H.W. Bush administration, he joined a group of doctors and other medical practitioners in a government-sponsored program. He visited several African countries to research the epidemic outbreaks.
“We needed to set up medical protocols in countries like South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, where one in four of their population would die before reaching the age of 35,” he said. However, funding for the project was cut short several years later.
“I had experienced the need for real medicine in my journey in those poor counties,” and the thought of using his medical experience and training in corporate medicine and private practice just didn’t resonate with him. Health care under these medical circumstances was of “no interest to my humanity and compassion,” Dr. Beatty added.
In the years to follow, he stayed true to his belief that “Faith, you have to have it.” Dr. Beatty subsequently went to work at San Francisco General Hospital, where he had plenty of opportunities to work on his humility and serve the less fortunate.
The indigent population, the under-served, are the most difficult to provide medical care for because it’s so costly, he believes. While he remained dedicated to this patient population, Dr. Beatty started consulting with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) during its legal struggles with the federal courts to correct and implement new medical protocols.
“… I wanted to make an impact. I needed to feel like I had a complete day”
While reviewing the results of autopsies and examining the of death of many inmates who died from HIV, he discovered early in his tenure that the treatment of these patients was worse than some of the protocols in African nations. The department’s “medical system wasn’t in place to process this epidemic. And I wasn’t sure if it was just apathy, but whatever the reason, it was dangerous,” he said.
During this tour of duty, he worked with two employees of the state, Chief Physical Surgeon,\ Dr. L. Pratt and Dr. E. Tootell. “I wanted to work for people who were compassionate, who were not seeking fame and fortune,” he explained.
“I wanted an interaction with people who quantified my existence, and these doctors cared for their patients.”
This interaction made it more difficult for him to venture into private practice. Besides, insurance companies were making it more and more difficult to practice good medicine, Dr. Beatty said. But that’s not the reason why he became a full-time physician with CDCR. “I wanted to get back to practicing medicine with the underserved. The interface with inmates gave me a real insight into life. They impart a different view of life through their stories that I didn’t experience.”
There is a perception that racism in mass incarceration produces inequality in good patient care, he noted. High-quality patient care was simply overlooked. Over the years, the department was overwhelmed and understaffed. It couldn’t keep the qualified medical personnel to process proper protocols. This resulted in poor patient care which ultimately left the department’s medical system in shambles. The federal court eventually intervened and appointed a receiver to give oversight and guidance to a failed medical system that needed compliance.
As for the inmate population at San Quentin who are under his medical care, inmates like Gary Cooper, George Terry and Warren Romero are experiencing a medical protocol from a southern gentleman whose medical practice truly epitomizes the bedside manners of a real country doctor. “I simply avoid struggling with my patients,” Beatty said.
His character exemplifies what Maya Angelou once said, “Remember how you made me feel.” For Dr. Beatty, the real definition of success is to “feel free and have fun.”