CA prisoners sent to Reno for medical care

SRMC protests inmates’ treatment in Reno
By Ryan Sabalow

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Inmates at state prisons in Susanville are again being sent to Nevada for medical care, and the administrator at Shasta Regional Medical Center has sought lawmakers’ help to make sure California inmates receive in-state treatment.

“The real anger here is these are state dollars being spent in Nevada that don’t need to be,” Shasta Regional CEO Randall Hempling said Monday.

Hempling earlier this month sent a letter to state Assemblyman Jim Nielsen urging the Gerber Republican to use his influence to make sure inmates in Susansville’s High Desert State Prison and the California Correctional Center are treated at California medical centers rather than having them sent for care in Reno.

Although Reno is closer to the prison by about 30 miles and the drive is easier than it is to Redding, state money spent on inmates’ health care needs to be spent at California’s hospitals, Hempling said.

He said he didn’t know how much money his hospital has lost since inmates have been shipped to Nevada instead, nor did he know when exactly the prison system decided to stop sending inmates to hospitals in California.

Luis Patino, a spokesman for California Prison Health Care Services, said prison health care officials in the coming weeks are in talks with SRMC as well as Banner Lassen Medical Center in Susanville to see whether it’s economical and practical to send the inmates to those facilities.

Patino noted that the longer trip to Redding means traveling through mountain passes that can be extremely difficult to cross in the winter.

He also said there are questions of whether the two California hospitals can meet the patients’ sometimes specialized medical needs.

“We’re undertaking great efforts to make sure we use California taxpayer money wisely and effectively,” Patino said.

SRMC’s appeal to state prison officials isn’t the first time the hospital’s administrators have tried to keep inmates – and the money their health care dollars bring to hospitals – in the state.

In spring 2008, SRMC’s appeal to north state lawmakers, including Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, prompted prison officials to resume shipping inmates to California medical facilities.

At the time, hospital officials said they had lost more than $2 million in just a few months after the state started busing inmates to Reno’s Renown Health center for cardiac care and orthopedic work.

Aanestad spokesman Bill Bird said the senator will send letters to state prison officials to find out why the inmates are being sent out of state.

“Aanestad is most concerned with the wisest use of taxpayer dollars when it comes to issues such as this,” Bird said in an e-mail. “But – at the same time … the senator would rather see California tax dollars STAY in California and not go elsewhere. So the thought of our tax dollars going to Nevada for prisoner medical care and treatment does bother him somewhat.”

Hempling said part of the reason for the shift to Reno hospitals is that prison guards don’t want to make the trip to Redding.

Many of them live in Reno and would rather stay close to their homes instead of accompanying inmates further west, he said.

But whatever prison officials’ reasons, Hempling said, state tax dollars in this economy shouldn’t be used to bolster another state’s economy.

“It’s not a Redding issue,” he said. “It’s a not hospital issue. It’s a California issue.

and: Prisonmovement blog