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Besmirched California Prison Doctors Sue To Block Higher Qualification Standards

By John E. Dannenberg

California Department of Corrections (CDC) doctors, who have been much maligned in recent scathing federal court reports depicting “horrible” medical care conditions in California’s prisons, made a defensive move on April 29, 2005 by having their union, the Union of American Physicians and Dentists, file a suit in Sacramento County Superior Court alleging that the tighter doctor certification standards recently announced by CDC violate state law.

At the heart of the disagreement is that CDC is levying medical qualification standards upon its doctors in the form of Medical Board certification for either internal or family medicine or by way of a CDC-administered competency test. The union alleges that CDC’s evaluation programs are flawed and that in any event, any new job qualifications must be approved by the State Personnel Board. They claim that CDC “is arbitrarily, capriciously, and unilaterally imposing new minimum qualifications for prison doctors to divert attention from its own execrable management spanning two decades. In a desperate last ditch effort to divert attention from its own colossal mismanagement, CDC is doing its best to blame prison doctors for its own failure.”

CDC spokesman Todd Slosek countered that it was bound by a court order stemming from the Plata v. Schwarzenegger class- action prisoner lawsuit (U.S.D.C. (N.D. Cal.), No. C-01-1351 TEH) to make sure that its doctors provide adequate medical care. Nonetheless, Youth and Adult Correctional Agency Undersecretary Kevin Carruth acknowledged in late April that prison officials are unable to manage CDC’s medical system, and want to employ consultants from the University of California (UC) to design a new plan within 18 months. The union was critical of the plan, which anticipated spending $14.7 million at UC San Diego and UC San Francisco. The California Senate was skeptical, too, red-lining this budget item from the May, 2005 revised Governor’s budget. Carruth was resigned to the expected outcome that the Plata court would appoint an interim receiver in July, 2005 to take over CDC’s entire health care delivery program. The court issued an order to show cause to this effect on May 10, 2005. The court appointed a federal receiver to take control of the CDC’ medical system in July, 2005. PLN will report the details once the receiver is announced and a written opinion issued.

But an example of just such inexcusable prison doctor misbehavior resulted in one doctor’s surrendering his medical license on March 18, 2005. Dr. James Pendleton, 55, was a physician at Corcoran State Prison in 1998, where he met an HIV+ prisoner whom he coerced into having homosexual relations. The allegations are that Pendleton forced the prisoner to comply by telling him that if he did not, the doctor would not include the prisoner in a study on a new vaccine that could cure his HIV.

After the prisoner paroled in June, 1998, Pendleton arranged to meet with him for sex in hotels in Corcoran, Sherman Oaks and Los Angeles. Pendleton also gave the prisoner rent money, introducing himself as the prisoner’s father. The unnamed prisoner ended the relationship in 2000, but was forced back into it when he was returned to Corcoran for a parole violation. Only then did he report the problem to Corcoran’s internal affairs staff for investigation. They set up a meeting with camera and recorder in a room where Pendleton was examining the prisoner. During the exam, Pendleton made “numerous responses substantiating the sexual relationship.”

After leaving Corcoran, Pendleton, a graduate of Dartmouth College, practiced in Morgan Hill and Dublin, California. He had been Tulare County’s health director from 1983 to 1989. Pendleton reportedly is married and has three children.

Sources: Sacramento Bee; Visalia Times.

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