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Whistleblower at facility for mentally ill prisoners claims he was blacklisted

Atascadero State Hospital, shown above in this 1999 photo, cares for more than 600 mentally ill patients.
Atascadero State Hospital, shown above in this 1999 photo, cares for more than 600 mentally ill patients.
Reed Saxon/AP

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A psychiatrist who testified about dangerously low staffing at a facility that treats mentally ill inmates says he’s been blacklisted from working in California prisons.

Dr. Joel Badeaux, a former staff psychiatrist at the Salinas Valley Psychiatrist Program, told U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton that he’d co-signed a letter to the head of the SVPP warning that caseloads of up to 60 patients were too heavy.

“We didn’t feel we could safely take care of that many patients with the number of psychiatrists we had,” Badeaux explained.

Karlton ordered an investigation of SVPP following the testimony from Badeaux and others last month about problems at the unit, which is on the grounds of the state prison there.

Badeaux said he was blacklisted because of his testimony. In a July 17 letter to the judge, Badeaux wrote that “negative information may have been improperly placed into my state employee file which could negatively affect my ability to gain employment anywhere for the rest of my career as a psychiatrist.”

Badeaux, 46, is currently seeing patients at a community clinic, but he says those jobs are limited. The state is the major employer for psychiatrists like Badeaux who have experience working with severely mentally ill patients.

Badeaux worked as a psychiatrist for 18 months for the Department of State Hospitals, which provides acute care to California’s most severely mentally ill inmates.  He quit working for the agency in March.

In June, the Chief of Mental Health at the Salinas Valley State Prison contacted Badeaux about a position as a staff psychiatrist there. Badeaux decided to apply through a private agency that is contracted to provide psychiatric services to state prisons.

A few days later the prison mental health official sent Badeaux an email that said he was “approved to come aboard ASAP," adding “This is so exciting.”

But a few weeks after that, after Badeaux testified at the court hearing, the CEO of healthcare for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation e-mailed a message to the contract agency:

“After a review of his file we have opted to decline to offer Dr. Badeaux a contract at this time.”

Badeaux says his state file was clean when he left.

“If there’s nothing negative in my file, what is the justification exactly for not bringing me back, besides that certain administrators may not like me or what I had to say in court?” Badeaux says.

Dana Simas, a spokeswoman for CDCR, couldn’t say why Badeaux’s application was rejected.

“CDCR doesn’t comment on specific personnel matters during the hiring process or the letting go process,” Simas said.

A team that reviews applications for contract jobs in the prisons made the decision not to hire Badeaux.

Simas confirmed the position he applied for is still open.

Badeaux believes state officials are making an example of him to stifle staff at SVPP while the federal court investigates conditions.

“Word gets around," he said.  “I still know a lot of people there.  They all know what happened, so they’ll think twice about saying anything.”

A special master for mental health care in the prisons is expected to spend the next couple of weeks interviewing staff at the state hospital facility before issuing a report to Judge Karlton.