September 27, 2022
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Camarillo hospital opposed

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Since the Ventura Youth Correction Facility in Camarillo was identified in June as a potential site for a new prison hospital facility by Federal Receiver J. Clark Kelso, the community has been up in arms about the negative implications associated with the project.

The Camarillo City Council was scheduled Aug. 27 to recommend authorization of a consultant to perform an economic analysis of the proposed state prison health-care facility at 3100 Wright Road, just outside of the city limits. The study could offer new data to support arguments that have, thus far, been well-fueled by emotion.

Opponents of the prison hospital say the facility could jeopardize the safety of surrounding neighborhoods, necessitate major changes to access roads, draw the region’s limited supply of health practitioners away from existing public and private medical facilities, and eliminate a youth correctional institution the community has long been invested in.

“We see the negatives significantly outweighing the positives and it’s a two-pronged issue for us,” said City Manager Jerry Bankston. “One is the impacts a prison hospital would have on local services and infrastructure … the other is, unlike some of the other locations [the federal receiver has] identified, we’re in an extremely unique situation.”

That situation, Bankston said, involves the state’s recent $10 million renovation of the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility to house both male and female wards in a secure setting. The efforts, he said, would go to waste if the facility were torn down to make way for a prison hospital. Bankston said the youth facility is the only of its kind in the state.

The Ventura County supervisors, Camarillo council members, Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks and District Attorney Greg Totten are among regional officials that have expressed public opposition to the project.
Steve Kinney, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Corp. of Oxnard, said although a new prison facility would present new construction opportunities, the project would ultimately be detrimental to Camarillo and all of West Ventura County. Kinney served as chairman of the board for St. John’s Hospital for the last two and a half years.

“There are short-term economic impacts and long-term economic impacts,” Kinney told the Business Times. “In the case of the prison hospital, there would be undeniable, very positive, short-term benefits from the construction phase, cognizant of the great construction jobs that the project would entail and I’d hate to give those up, but I think long-term, the economic influence of that project would be detrimental for the region.”
Kinney said the prison hospital’s impact to the regional health-care system could be “truly damaging,” which in turn, he said, would affect the quality of life for west county residents.

Bankston supported Kinney’s concerns, saying the region is already short-staffed when it comes to health-care professionals and has difficulty recruiting employees to the area, particularly because of housing costs. He said the state should expect to have the same issues if it builds a hospital in Camarillo.

Kinney also said the project could damage the area’s desirability for future business.

“There are communities where a very deliberate economic development strategy is to target contracts to have such facilities there because they do provide construction jobs and long-term payroll … those are communities where they don’t have many other choices and I think the choices potentially available to Ventura County for the future are limitless and we can look further than facilities like that.”

University of California, Santa Barbara, Economic Forecast Project Executive Director Bill Watkins said as a relatively wealthy, high-income area, Camarillo would not find the prison facility as valuable as other cities in the state.

Watkins said new jobs would be created by the project. However, he said, competition with the prison for existing workers could raise costs for area medical institutions. He said family members of prison hospital wards could come to live in the area to join their relatives.

But California Economic Forecast Director Mark Schniepp said the overall economic impact of a prison hospital facility would likely be positive, “providing that you can control for the safety issues.”
Schniepp said prisons contribute to local economies by providing new jobs and purchasing goods and services from the surrounding community, calling them “another big, giant customer to serve.”

“They tend to have pretty big economic multipliers because they’re bringing in essentially a bunch of state moneys and they spend money in the local economy so they tend to have larger regional impacts,” Schniepp said, adding that the prisons in Lompoc and San Luis Obispo are large economic drivers for their areas.

Bankston said the environmental consultants hired by the city last month and the economic consultants expected to be hired upon city council approval, will perform their own assessments of the potential impacts of the prison hospital in order for the city to be able to “gauge against” impact reports that will be prepared by the state.