Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a plan which would place the medical needs of the state’s 160,000 prison inmates in the hands of the University of California and its prestigious medical schools.
Schwarzenegger’s latest proposal, which officials claim could save the state as much as $12 billion over the next decade, would rely heavily on the use of telemedicine, a technique which links doctors with their patients through video hookups.
A study by NuPhysicia, a company affiliated with the University of Texas, also promotes centralized hospitals and electronic record-keeping as additional cost saving measures. The University of Texas took over prison healthcare during the 1990s.
The plan also calls for a special hospital designed to house and treat chronically ill patients in order to reduce the need for costly overtime paid to the guards of hospitalized inmates.
Dr. John Stobo, UC’s senior vice-president for health services, favors the governor’s proposal. Stobo is a former past chairman of NuPhysicia’s board of directors. The Board of Regents has countered conflict-of-interest concerns by pointing out that the position was non-paying, and Stobo cut all ties with NuPhysicia upon leaving Texas in 2007.
The university system’s Board of Regents have announced plans to form a special committee to study the feasibility of the governor’s plan, its costs, effects on labor relations and potential legal liabilities to the university system from inmate lawsuits.
The regents have made it plain that they are in no hurry to embrace the governor’s proposal, which calls for a UC takeover of dental and psychiatric services, as well.
“This is a very complicated issue, and we are going to have to spend a great deal of time to determine how and if the university is going to get involved,” said regents Chairman Russell S. Gould.
“This is radical surgery on a broken system
that will save the state billions ”
Schwarzenegger spokesman – Aaron McLane
The plan, which would likely result in a significant loss of jobs for prison healthcare workers, was opposed by the Union for Physicians and Dentists which represents more than 800 prison healthcare employees. The union that represents prison guards also opposes the plan.
According to a recent study done by a consultant, California currently spends more than $2.4 billion of it’s annual $11 billion prison budget on inmate health care, approximately $41 per day for each of its approximately 160,000 inmates.
New Jersey, which spends around $16 per day on healthcare for each of its inmates, has a similar arrangement with its university system, as do both Texas and Georgia which each spend about $10 per day.
A three-judge federal panel appointed a receiver in 2006 to make improvements in healthcare in the state’s prisons as a result of inmate’s lawsuits over inadequate care.
Federal receiver J. Clark Kelso has refused to comment on Schwarzenegger’s latest proposal which would require the approval of both he and the judges.
Schwarzenegger is fond of “rattling cages” with often wild proposals for solving the state’s continuing financial crisis.
The governor’s proposal would call for a phased UC takeover beginning at 11 northern California prisons before expanding to include all 33 prisons.