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Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

Editor’s note 3:40 p.m.: This item has been updated with responses from California Correctional Health Care Services.

Layoff notices are going out to psychiatric technicians at California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo as the state continues to shuffle medical staffing and shift patients into treatment centers such as the year-old facility in Stockton.

The layoffs will take effect Dec. 1, according to a letter sent to the California Association of Psychiatric Technicians. There are 66 state employees on the layoff warning list, which the union says is every psychiatric technician who works at the facility.

California Correctional Health Care Services, the federally devised department created to improve inmate medical services, is conducting the layoffs. Generally, state agencies issue more layoff-warning notices than the number of positions they eventually eliminate.

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Eric Risberg/ Associated Press
A San Quentin inmate gets treated for a diabetic condition.

Our report in today’s fiber/cyber Bee looks at union allegations that psychiatric technicians at California Health Care Facility in Stockton were ordered to falsify “suicide precaution” forms that record court-ordered checks on inmate welfare. California Association of Psychiatric Technicians says the mental unit is understaffed, so psychiatric technicians are too busy performing other tasks, which fostered an environment that encouraged reporting of patient checks that weren’t done.

The facility opened last year to help improve inmate medical care, but stopped taking new admissions earlier this year while it grappled with a number of staffing, management and supply problems. New patient intake resumed last month after J. Clark Kelso, the federally-appointed receiver who manages prison medical care, said the facility had corrected the problems.

The California Association of Psychiatric Technicians says the facility remains understaffed, and the union is considering picketing the Stockton facility in protest.

Here’s a redacted copy of a Suicide Watch/Suicide Precaution form like those that were falsified. Look for the highlighted line that shows the legally required policy that inmate patients be checked no less than five times per hour.

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Rich Pedroncelli/ Associated Press
A correctional officer stands in one of the secure inmate-patient housing units of the California Correctional Health Care Facility in Stockton, Calif.
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Rich Pedroncelli/ The Associated Press
An inmate sits at the mental health unit at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's Stockton Health Facility in Stockton. The California Association of Psychiatric Technicians union says that employees at the facility were instructed to routinely falsify suicide watch records.

The union representing California state psychiatric technicians says that two of its members were forced to fake inmate suicide-monitoring records and were then disciplined when video recordings revealed the false documentation.

The California Association of Psychiatric Technicians alleges that managers at the prison medical facility in Stockton ordered those employees and others to document that they checked patients in the mental health crisis unit no less than five times per hour, even though other work kept the employees from adhering to that schedule.

When surveillance tapes reportedly showed that the suicide rounds weren’t done that frequently, one technician was rejected on probation. Another was suspended, union officials said.

“We’ve told the department, ‘You’re putting our people in positions where they can’t do the work,’” said union attorney Steve Bassoff. “They haven’t responded.”

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Courtesy CalPERS
CalPERS board member Priya Mathur

A CalPERS board member seeking reelection has lost a fight over whether her challenger made a misleading statement tying board actions to soaring pension contribution rates.

Incumbent Priya Mathur, who holds the local public agency seat on the 13-member board, last month protested this sentence in a written candidate statement by Leyne Milstein, director of finance for the City of Sacramento:

“With recent CalPERS Board decisions resulting in what could easily be 55% increases or greater in pension costs for more than 400 participating local agencies over the next six years, it has become apparent that we need an advocate for public agency interests and concerns.”

In a 367-page exhibit, Mathur protested to an arbitrator that the statement is inaccurate, inflamatory and “inherently misleading.” She also questioned Milstein‘s source (”I don’t believe her claim reflects CalPERS’ published information ...”) and sought to have the sentence deleted.

story mug Ortiz
Jon Ortiz

Sacramento’s economy gets a boost on Friday when state paychecks roll out with the first across-the-board raises many employees have received in years.

The hikes are modest: Two percent for state managers, supervisors, most service workers, psychiatric technicians, dentists and doctors; 1.5 percent for health and social services workers. An administrative assistant earning $4,888 in June, for example, made about $98 more in July before deductions. We’re talking a couple tanks of gas.

But those increases, plus a larger raise for Highway Patrol officers, will boost pay for about 150,000 employees under Gov. Jerry Brown’s authority. More than half of them work in the greater Sacramento area.

That translates into about $100 million flowing into the local economy in the coming year, University of the Pacific economist Jeff Michael said, roughly the same payroll impact as Sacramento’s downtown arena construction project.

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courtesy photo/ State Personnel Board
California State Personnel Board President Patricia Clarey

Despite heavy lobbying from departments and interest groups, California’s personnel panel has stood its ground: If you’re applying for a state job, you have to meet the minimum qualifications – even if you’re a state worker.

The State Personnel Board late last week issued guidelines for applying its ruling in Cynthia McReynolds v. California Public Utilities Commission case, which found the CPUC wrongly awarded a transfer without a test to an employee who lacked the experience and the education for the job.

Applied more broadly, the decision ended a common practice that allowed state employees to skip meeting the minimum requirements for some jobs.

State workers in many instances made transfers between departments, for example, without meeting college coursework minimum qualifications. Outside applicants don’t receive the same considerations. The Nov. 7 McReynolds decision stopped that practice, which originated many years ago when State Personnel Board staff allowed the policy.

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Randall Benton/ The Sacramento Bee
An Intel employee examines a test tablet device being at the Intel facility in Folsom in this March 2014 photo.

The majority of state and local government agencies don’t have the plans, tools or system support needed to exploit mobile technology, according to a new study released Monday by a public-private organization that promotes government teleworking.

Nearly 60 percent of government technology managers say their agencies aren’t ready to go mobile, with security concerns (56 percent) and lack of funding (52 percent) cited as the most common obstacles noted in a survey by Mobile Work Exchange on behalf of technology firm Citrix. Other hurdles: management resistance (29 percent) and cultural barriers (23 percent).

Still, 65 percent of the 150 state and local tech managers surveyed said they expect the number of mobile government workers to increase in the next five years.

Asked what single decision their agencies’ top leaders could make to improve mobile readiness, those surveyed named increasing their technology budget (you can imagine Citrix is thrilled with that response), updating technology infrastructure, and increasing employees’ eligibility to telework.

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Brian Nguyen/ The Sacramento Bee
Scaffolding forms a protected walkway to elevators that service the parking structure at the Board of Equalization headquarters in downtown Sacramento.

Work crews this weekend will replace leased scaffolding outside the defective Board of Equalization headquarters with scaffolding purchased by the state, prompting board Chairman Jerome Horton to blast the Brown administration for failing to find a new facility for the agency.

Horton said Thursday that while the change may make financial sense in the short term, it sends a signal that the Department of General Services intends to keep Equalization’s 2,200 or so employees in the troubled building. The downtown Sacramento structure has a history of toxic mold, defective elevators, leaking windows, corroded wastewater pipes, floods, and exterior glass panels that spontaneously break or pop off. Employees have blamed some illnesses on the building, and Horton and other board members want a new facility for the tax-collecting department.

Horton said General Services’ decision to move from renter to owner is “officially making the scaffolding permanent” around an “irreparably broken building” that sparked a $50 million tort claim earlier this month. The board has paid out $2.3 million in connection with building-related employee injury claims.

“We have to relocate these affected BOE employees and consolidate our operations,” Horton said.

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Brian Nguyen/ The Sacramento Bee
The Board of Equalization building with scaffolding at 450 N St. in Sacramento on Monday, June 12, 2014.

With work crews pulling a scaffolding switcheroo at the Board of Equalization’s headquarters this weekend, and given the attention the building has drawn from The Bee since Sunday, it seems like an apt time to ask faithful blog readers, when will the agency get out of California’s state money pit?

Thursday, July 24 2014
California state tower gets Ohmanized
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Jack Ohman/ The Sacramento Bee
At the BOE

Our Sunday story about the Board of Equalization headquarter’s sorry, soggy history inspired this visual commentary by Bee cartoonist Jack Ohman. The Bee’s editorial board also weighed in with its opinion, “State’s tower of horror in downtown Sacramento is nice for bats, not humans.” Read it here.

This column starts where last week’s left off, with a simple question, the government’s nonresponsive response and what it all says about public transparency.

As we reported seven days ago, a state executive started a new state job one day before a state investigation portrayed her as a “non-reliable witness” in a state probe. An investigator found that the executive, Monica Rea, contradicted herself in written statements and interviews about an employee’s illegal promotion at the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Ironic.

The day after the State Personnel Board issued its scathing assessment, The State Worker asked a few questions of the spokeswoman for Rea’s new employer, the Department of Aging. Spokeswoman Christin Hemann answered them all, confirming that Rae had started at Aging on July 14 as a deputy director earning $101,422 annually.

Other questions: Does the fact that employees are under investigation travel with them when they transfer? (Nope.) Did Aging know about the investigation into Rea’s role in the scandal at Fair Employment? (“We were not aware of the SPB investigation of Ms. Rea,” Hemann said.)

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Randall Benton/ The Sacramento Bee
A doctor examines an inmate at the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran.

California state doctors and dentists earned far more than other unionized state employees last year, with base pay averaging $204,764 – and half of them earned more than $234,000.

That more than doubled the average and median salaries of the next highest-paid group, state lawyers and administrative law judges.

It’s difficult to compare the state’s overall pay to employees covered by the Union of American Physicians and Dentists because the government data doesn’t parse the various specialists in the state. In 2012, the last year for which overall federal data is available, physicians practicing primary care medicine received median annual compensation of $220,942 while specialists earned $396,233. Dentists’ median pay that year was $149,310.

The state-pay numbers over the last three years:

About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at jortiz@sacbee.com.

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Note: The State Worker blog switched blog platforms in October 2013. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.


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