Background Check: On Schedule with California Receiver J. Clark Kelso

J. Clark Kelso is receiver at California Correctional Health Care Services, which is responsible for providing medical care to 166,000 inmates (93 percent male and 7 percent female) at 33 adult institutions in California and overseeing more than 7,000 California prison medical care positions, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and administrative staff.

Assembly Bill 900 was signed into law in May 2007, authorizing $7.4 billion in lease revenue bonds for the construction or expansion of prisons, jails, and re-entry centers. Of this amount, approximately $3.5 billion will be used to add new beds and treatment and programming space at existing prisons.

Kelso was appointed receiver in early 2008 and comes to the position with more than 15 years of experience in a wide variety of positions in all three branches of state government, including the California Judicial Council and Administrative Office of the Courts, where he worked in support of court unification; the Department of Insurance, where he replaced Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush; and as California’s Chief Information Officer. He has also received numerous awards, including the prestigious 1998 Bernard E. Witkin Amicus Curiae Award from the California Judicial Council and the “Top 25 Award for 2004 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers” from Government Technology. Computerworld recognized him in their list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders for 2007.”

Correctional News caught up with Kelso to ask him some questions about the mega CHCF Stockton project.

Q: Why is this project needed, and how will it serve the needs of the mentally and physically ill prisoner?

A: CHCF will provide health care services for aging and chronically ill inmates who need intermediate and long-term care. Inmates who currently need these services are either located in outside community facilities, where the cost of care is substantially higher, or they are in prison medical facilities occupying beds intended for only short-term medical needs. As inmates age (their real age is roughly 10 years ahead of their chronological age) and their healthcare needs and costs increase, this facility will help contain costs by reducing the need for outside long-term care that, with guarding costs, could run upward of $3,000 per day.

Q: This facility will house more than 1,700 mentally and physically ill prisoners. What kinds of illnesses are we talking about?
A: Alzheimer’s, dementia, stroke recovery, chronic kidney disease (CHCF will have a large dialysis unit), COPD, MS, etc. There are also more than 500 beds dedicated to treating inmates with mental illness.

Q: What is the Receiver’s role in this project? What is your office responsible for regarding this facility?
A: California Correctional Health Care Services is overseeing the staff and facility activation, while CDCR is managing the construction of the facility. Mental health beds and programs will be managed by CDCR and DMH, based on acuity. Medical beds will be managed by California Correctional Health Care Services.

Q: How will this project benefit the Stockton community and the state overall?
A: Stockton will benefit from a facility that brings jobs for medical and administrative professionals. The state will save money in the long run because patient inmates who have been treated in more expensive community facilities for long-term care services will now receive care within the correctional healthcare system, which will save through reduced transportation and guarding expenses.

Q: What do you say those who are against this type of project saying the state cannot afford it?

Civic and business leaders in San Joaquin initially opposed its development and sued the state.
A: The issues with Stockton were settled a long time ago, and I am grateful to Stockton’s community leaders who have made sure that we fully understand the community’s issues and stay engaged with them to mitigate any adverse impacts. The community, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, will benefit greatly from the employment opportunities and the revenues generated by those who are employed, as they use local services and put money back into the local economy. Our partnerships are proving very effective in bringing stable employment and civic pride to Stockton.

Q: What do you say to those that opposed spending so much on a prison facility, particularly when funding to schools and colleges is being cut drastically?
A: This facility is part of the solution in meeting the federal court mandate to provide adequate healthcare and access to that care. Ongoing delays in the construction required to alleviate overcrowding and to satisfy federal court mandates are a bigger waste of the state’s financial resources in the long run. The sooner we complete the work and turn control of an efficient and sustainable healthcare system back to the state, the sooner state leadership can focus all of its attention and resources on addressing other challenges, such as improving the education system.

Q: Please tell us more about the partnership your office has with local colleges to train those interested in a healthcare career.
A: CCHCS has contributed funding to expand capacity in the Delta College psychiatric technician program, in order to help build the workforce in the Stockton area. Some funding was also provided to the Stockton Unified Health Care Academy, where the high school curricula focuses on preparing students interested in pursuing healthcare careers. The young people at the Academy are enthusiastic, dedicated to their education, and offer a promising future workforce. The partnerships we have formed with education programs, such as those in Stockton, are wise investments for our healthcare system needs and the community at large. 

Q: How many similar prison medical facilities are there in the state?
A: This is the first of its kind for correctional healthcare in California. We anticipate a growing need for long-term care services as inmates get older and need an increasing level of treatment and services. We estimate that within a matter of a few short years, we could have as many as 500 inmates with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. There is already a severe shortage of appropriate facilities in the community to help the growing number of families dealing with these devastating conditions. By building our own facility to accommodate this population, we will avoid costly outside care, guarding costs, and straining already inadequate community resources.