With approximately 750 empty beds available in unopened units, Department of Mental Health ("DMH") officials have authorized the overcrowding of presently operating units. In yet another move to make Coalinga State Hospital ("CSH") more like a prison, and less like a hospital, additional beds are being added to already crowded units. However, they can only do this because the units are "unlicensed."

On July 21, a Saturday, maintenance and warehouse staff, who were most likely working overtime, began converting treatment rooms into patient living space. Three bunks were placed into the small odd shaped rooms which provide approximately 250 square feet of usable space. The odd shape of the rooms dictated that the beds were initially placed only three feet apart. On Tuesday, July 24, 2007, the former treatment rooms began housing patients. The patients are already moving beds in an attempt to have a little more personal space, but as of this date, do not have any other furniture. 

There are no chairs, no tables, and not even a locker for personal property.

This type of living arraignment is totally unsuitable for patients who, under the law, are supposed to be housed in a therapeutic environment under the least restrictive conditions. Not only are the persons being crowded into rooms not designed for housing impacted, but also all other patients on such overcrowded units must compete for the limited unit resources.

The CSH unit bathrooms were under-designed for the number of beds when the hospital was built. There have been consistent lines to use the sinks and toilets even before the additional beds were added. There is insufficient square footage in the existing bathrooms, making it such that two people cannot pass each entering and exiting the bathroom itself without one of them stepping out of the way of the other. The same applies when getting from the sink area to the toilet area. The staff has been unable to keep the basic minimum of supplies, such as, toilet paper and paper towels, in the bathrooms before the recent overcrowding.

In addition to the basic necessities being insufficient, the lack of ancillary resources is also inadequate. There is insufficient janitorial staff to keep the units clean with the normal population of fifty patients. The bathrooms and showers are nearly always filthy, with mold problems plaguing these areas only two years after the hospital opened. The hospital will need to add additional tables to already crowded dining halls. The Day Rooms are too small for fifty patients, unless one likes crowded elevator type conditions for their leisure time activities. There are an inadequate number of telephones. There is simply insufficient space on each unit for fifty patients to coexist. Now that number is being increased even more.

The treatment rooms which were converted to bed space left a void that cannot be filled. The activities that took place in those rooms will no longer take place. Granted, many of the activities these rooms were used for are classified as "leisure time" activities. However, unless the hospital is to be only a warehouse for human bodies, there must be activities and places for them to be held.
The DMH officials are claiming this is only temporary until they can hire sufficient staff to open more of the presently empty units. The patients are claiming "temporary," which in bureaucratic speak generally refers to geological time, is really the first step of what will eventually become permanent. They cite the multiple decades of the use of "temporary" bunks in Gyms and Day Rooms that have now become the norm in California prisons. They cite the California Sales Tax which began as a "temporary" measure more than 75 years ago. Everyone knows how temporary that turned out.

What may sum this latest situation up best is an off-the-record comment made by a person in the legal department of the Legislative Analyst's Office, "This is just another lawsuit waiting to happen!"
More lawsuits are just what the State needs when the present lawsuits are now endangering the State's $2 billion reserve. And that doesn't include the several billion dollars the present prison system lawsuits will cost the California taxpayers. Numerous lawsuits are now being prepared by Coalinga patients, and some have already been filed.

Tom Watson, July 2007

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