Transcript: Q&A with Sen. Jean Fuller on the confirmation of CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard

Partial transcript of Q&A with Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield) on the confirmation of Jeffrey Beard for Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations. The hearing was held before the state Senate Rules Committee on June 19, 2013:

State Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield):
In April, I asked your staff who was before us for confirmation if the Valley Fever was an issue in Central Valley prisons. We were told that the department had made a concerted effort to move all inmates that are considered to be high-risk and susceptible to this disease out of Avenal and Pleasant Valley prisons. I was a resident…in that area for a number of years and I’m very familiar with the issue. Yet only one week later, the Center for Disease Control stepped in to investigate outbreaks and deaths from Valley Fever and the federal prison health care receiver directed the relocation of over 3,200 inmates. What have you done since May to address the Valley Fever problem at these two prisons?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
Well, let me begin by saying, you know, this is really a complex and difficult problem, and it’s a problem that CDCR has been struggling with for quite a number of years. We’ve been working with the California Public Health Department for a number of years. We’ve been looking at things we can do to reduce the impact of Valley Fever on the inmates and the staff at those institutions. Done a lot of things. Spent over $1 million to mitigate things around the institution, putting ground cover down, putting high-capacity filter on units, trying to seal buildings up more, educated staff, educated inmates, put brochures out to people so that they know if they’re getting sick or feeling a certain way when they should go see the doctor, offer masks to any staffer or inmate whenever they would like to use them. Sort of taken any kind of steps that we could. And I guess that as things move forward, we found that that wasn’t – it may have been helping but it wasn’t helping enough. And so an exclusionary list was developed of certain people who’ve had immuno-suppress systems and certain other serious medical problems and there was a decision to move those people out of those two institutions and those people have been moved out for some time. Then we further worked on it and it was decided that maybe we should people who have any kind of chronic problem – and we defined a list of chronic problems – and it was probably about 600 more inmates that needed to be moved, and we’re currently in the process of moving those inmates out of both of those institutions. That should be completed by August.

Now, to answer the beginning of your question of why CDC wasn’t mentioned, why the receiver’s reaction wasn’t mentioned, what I could say about that is first of all, we’ve been trying to get and we wanted CDC to come in. And we’ve been working with Public Health to try to get them to come in. So we wanted them to come in, but we – I would assume at the time of the meeting – did not know that they were in fact going to come in. But we want their input, we want to know what more they think we could be doing. This isn’t a problem that’s just affecting California’s Central Valley but it affects Arizona, New Mexico, and other states. So I think that’s the reason the CDC wasn’t mentioned at that point because we didn’t know they were coming in. But we’re glad they’re in, they’ve been in and reviewed those two institutions. We’re expecting a preliminary report sometime in the next couple of weeks.

As far as the receiver, that sort of blindsided us too. He sort of out of the blue just came out after the plaintiffs had an expert who reviewed some of the deaths and that expert showed or said that these people were dying in some cases…because the medical staff had not done proper diagnosis or treatment of those individuals. I think it was after that, all of the sudden, the receiver came out with his report. And of course, the medical staff is the receiver’s responsibility. So I don’t know what he’s done or hasn’t done as far as training the medical staff relative to the Valley Fever. And we still don’t know why he suddenly came out with saying, you know, you have to move these 3,000 inmates. One of the problems we have is we can’t get the data. You know, the receiver’s people are doing the treatment; they know who’s sick; they know who’s getting the diseases. We had trouble getting information from the receiver. We had trouble getting the total number of who all died from the receiver and we finally have gotten that list from him. But we had trouble getting that information. So it’s difficult for us to respond to what is the appropriate next step here when we haven’t been able to look at the data that the receiver has had for many years and could have for many been taking different actions than taken.

So I’m sorry that we didn’t know it at the time before when you asked those questions but that’s the reason, Senator.

State Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield):
Well, just so you won’t be blindsided again, I’m sure you’re aware that Congressman McCarthy has announced he’s bringing the UC Center for Disease Control to the Valley later this year to train the health professionals in recognizing and defending against Valley Fever and a lot of this will surface again and be a topic of discussion. So I think perhaps between now and then we should come up with a coordinated solution for what is working.

One of the things that I was concerned about was I know that when you constructed the new wing on the prison, there was a lot of dust and construction dirt stirred up and of course that’s what spreads Valley Fever. Has there been any investigation into – now that that wing is all completed – has that changed the impact on the prison at all?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
As far as I know, I don’t know the answer to that question. What I can say is that we have some construction that we were going to do that we didn’t do for that very reason because we were aware that stirring up the dust could create more of a problem. So some construction programs at both of those institutions have not been done for that reason.

State Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield):
…I’d like to play devil’s advocate for just a little bit on the next issue. During the litigation against the state, you were called as an expert witness to testify about California’s mortality rate and health care delivery. In fact, I believe your testimony was cited over 35 times in the court’s 2009 decision to reduce inmate population. When you testified against California in the federal case as an expert witness, how many California prisons had you visited?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
One.

State Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield):
How many prisons have you visited since then?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
29.

State Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield):
And now, your views have changed?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
Yes.

State Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield):
How so?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
Well, there’s a number of reasons. Probably the primary reason my opinion has changed is because I saw the effect of the significant reduction in population within the system.

When I testified back in 2008, I said the system was too overcrowded to do what it needed to do, and I believed that then and I still believe that now.

Today, that’s a changed thing. Those inmates aren’t there anymore. There’s been a great reduction. I’ve also had a chance to go out and specifically look at mental health care in the system and I’ve been most of the institutions where they have the major mental health treatment. And what I’ve seen there is people are getting identified, people are getting placed in the proper level of care, and people are being treated. We’re doing the job we should be doing with those people mental health wise.

I believe from everything that I’ve seen – and I do have some background; I am a licensed psychologist and so I do have some background in mental health – and I believe from everything I saw out there and this was primarily in 2012 now while Realignment was bringing down the numbers I believe a constitutional level of care was being provided. I did not see people who were deliberately indifferent out there. I saw people doing what they needed to do to treat people. Was everybody perfect? No. There’s things that still can be improved. But people were getting the care that they needed to get and that’s what’s important to me.

I’ve also had the opportunity to talk to some experts who have looked at the system as well, and their findings were similar to what my thoughts were on the matter.

And as far as the medical side, while I didn’t specifically look in as much detail there as I did with medical health, I did visit medical areas and I saw the same thing. People are getting treated. People are getting the care that they needed.

And so with the current population levels and with the significant amount of money that has been spent – the additional staff, the additional facilities that have been built – I believe that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is very capable of providing a constitutional level of care in both of those areas at the current population level. And that’s all I’ve said. I didn’t change anything from what I’ve said before. I just said today, with those greatly reduced population, all that additional money, all those additional facilities, we’re doing what we should be doing.

State Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield):
So I guess the thing that concerns me is that you would testify in such a weighty way and make such a huge financial impact on California after you had visited only one California prison and that you were in charge of the Pennsylvania prison at that time, is that correct?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
That’s correct.

State Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield):
And what was its mortality rate compared to California’s mortality rate at that time?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
I can’t answer that question.

State Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield):
I believe it was third – ranked third highest mortality rate and California was the 38th highest or lowest, whichever way you look at it, mortality ranking. So it concerns me that after one visit you came to this conclusion and yet the prison you were running had a very high mortality rate. Ten times greater than California’s.

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
Well, I would have to go back and look at that. I know in court there was an attempt to say that my mortality rate was high but they were actually showing parole statistics not corrections statistics at the time.

The second thing is I testified that I had only been to one prison during the testimony so everybody was aware that I had only been to one prison. And I was primarily testifying based on statistical information that had been provided to me and I made that clear during my testimony.

State Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield):
And what size was the Pennsylvania prison that you – system that you ran there?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
We had, when I left, 51,000 inmates.

State Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield):
And how many prisons?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
27.

State Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield):
And that compares how to California? How much difference is that compared to California?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
Well, it’s about 40% the size. It’s pretty much the same number of prisons but they’re smaller prisons but about 40% the size of the – Pennsylvania’s about 40% the size of California today.

State Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield):
And you stated today that it was unfair to compare states if the demographics are different. Are their demographics different between these two states?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
I would have to go back. I don’t want to testify – without looking at it, I can’t say.

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