The State Worker

UPDATE: State sends layoff notices to psychiatric technicians

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.

Correctional Health Care Services spokeswoman Joyce Hayhoe said that the layoffs are part of a statewide reduction in staff prompted by a decline in the number of inmates over the last two years.

Since late 2011, more convicted criminals have been sentenced to local jails, a policy prompted by federal court orders to reduce prison overcrowding. While the so-called “realignment” touched off wave after wave of cuts to custody staff such as correctional officers, the state held off on cutting inmate health care workers while it figured out how many sick inmates would remain in the system.

“We shed a lot of (inmates),” Hayhoe said, “but not a lot of the population that uses health care.”

The state also is getting out of the full-service prison hospital business in favor of sending inmates off-site for acute care, which can be billed to the federal government, Hayhoe said.

With new health-worker staffing ratios in place, the department will be laying off employees “at every prison except Mule Creek,” Hayhoe said.

Ann Lyles, the union’s consultant, said that she was surprised by the notice. The San Luis Obispo facility has about 600 inmates who need mental health care, she said, and two years ago several employees moved to the area to fill about 20 vacancies. Now they may have to move again or lose work.

“I don’t know what to think,” Lyles said. “We have lots of questions.”

The layoffs add another strain to the relationship between the psychiatric technicians and Correctional Health Care Services. The union has alleged that managers at the state’s prison medical facility in Stockton ordered psychiatric technicians to falsely document how often they monitored mentally-ill inmates who might become suicidal. Authorities are investigating the matter.

Union officials say that staffing shortages fostered an environment that encouraged the situation and that members may soon picket in protest.

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