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Prison health-care facility bad for area

By   /   Friday, June 27th, 2008  /   Comments Off on Prison health-care facility bad for area

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A proposal to spend $1 billion in taxpayer dollars for a prison-hospital complex in the Camarillo area is fraught with problems and contradictions.

Ventura County’s health care executives and political leaders are questioning the location of the proposed adult prison health-care facility that would house 1,500 inmates with special medical and mental health needs on the current site of the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility.

This is part of a plan developed by federal receiver J. Clark Kelso, the man charged by the courts with bringing the state’s prison health-care system up to constitutional standards. The center of the plan is to construct seven stand-alone facilities that would serve inmates with special medical or mental health needs. The Ventura County site already is owned by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. It has been on Wright Road, northwest of Camarillo, since 1962.

Kelso reportedly favors Ventura County site because its location near the coast would make it easier to attract the physicians, psychiatrists and other health-care professionals who will be needed to staff the specialized prison.

Steve Weiner, with the Tri-County Building and Construction Trades Council, said the project would create from 1,000 to 1,500 construction jobs for three years and be a big economic boon.

But Kelso’s plan has a fatal flaw. Because of a shortage of trained professionals, those benefits might never be realized, and the end result could be to cannibalize the area health-care work force.

The proposal has met with political and community opposition, as evidenced by testimony at a public meeting organized by Assemblywoman Audra Strickland, R-Moorpark. She and others aren’t comfortable with the idea of putting an adult prison facility so close to residential areas that have been built since the youth prison was established 46 years ago.

Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Simi Valley, in a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said he is very concerned by the serious public safety concerns raised by this plan.

Hospitals in Santa Barbara County and Ventura County will hear that giant sucking sound as their best staffers are lured away by the new prison hospital.

Kelso should take a harder look at this project and weigh the true cost to our health-care facilities.

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