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New prison hospital a shot-in-the-arm for local economy
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STOCKTON – San Joaquin County representatives weren’t exactly hot on the idea of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation opening up a prison hospital in their backyard.

They fear it would pull an extensive array of medical personnel – doctors, nurses, technicians, etc. – away from the programs that the county offers at its French Camp complex and create an even larger demand for positions that are already difficult to fill.

And since the hospital, which opened formally late last month, started receiving inmates, some of that has come true.

According to San Joaquin County Supervisor Steve Bestolarides, who spoke Monday morning at the monthly Lathrop District Chamber coffee, the county has seen an exodus of psych techs that have taken more lucrative positions at the nearby state hospital.

But while those positions will need to be filled, the economic impacts that the construction brought, he said, have been great, and a joint agreement for more acute care at a lockdown wing that the state constructed at San Joaquin General will only help further additional health care goals.

“It was a project that generated thousands of construction jobs and 1200 full-time positions across the board, and that’s a huge boost to the county and to our community,” Bestolarides said. “We initially thought that we would take a huge hit but the impact has been relatively minimal. We’re going to have to scramble to fill the positions that are being vacated, but overall it has been extremely positive.”

While the State of California had several options at its disposal, it opted instead to retrofit an entire wing of the main hospital into a secure facility – allowing for acute care and longer hospital stays while cutting down on back-and-forth transport from nearby Deuel Vocational Institute to hospitals that had inked contracts for medical care.

That all changed when the United States Supreme Court ruled that California’s prison system was overcrowded and had failed to offer adequate medical care to the inmates in its custody – forcing CDCR to look at ways that it could free up space in prisons while providing the care that the government said the incarcerated deserved.

The shuttered women’s prison facility off of Arch Road became their focal point.

In a massive, nearly $900-million construction project the state razed the existing compound and built a complex that will provide long-term medical and psychiatric care for the prisoners from throughout the state.

On the surface that would seem like it would impact the operation of the wing at San Joaquin County Hospital. But instead, the two facilities will work in tandem with the county providing the enhanced sort of medical coverage that it always has.

“We’re hoping that this is something that will actually allow us to enhance our operations,” Bestolarides said. “I think that the medically guarded unit was instrumental in the very survival of the hospital and I think the component that we’ll see moving forward will be additional growth.”