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Psychiatrist Shortage At State Prison Hospital

SAN LUIS OBISPO — A state prison hospital on California's central coast has closed one of its special admission units and is admitting fewer patients because of a shortage of psychiatrists.

Atascadero State Hospital now has about 22 psychiatrists on staff, compared with nearly 33 in September 2012, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

"It's spreading them thin. It's not good for the treatment of the patients or the safety of the doctors," said Dr. Stuart Bussey, president of the American Physicians and Dentists employee union that represents the facility's doctors.

Atascadero is one of five state facilities that houses mentally ill and disordered convicts who have been committed to psychiatric facilities by California's courts. The maximum-security facility has 1,275 beds, and also houses those who are mentally incompetent to stand trial and those found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Staffing shortages at Atascadero have occurred before due to several factors, including the facility's location and higher salaries paid elsewhere. Patient admissions were restricted in 2007 for the first time after some clinical workers transferred to state prisons.

The number of admissions was reduced last month from 24 to 15 per week, and one of two units dedicated to patients deemed incompetent to stand trial recently was closed.

The hospital's psychiatrists are part of a team that determines what kind of treatment is needed for newly admitted patients.

In August, a state prison outside San Luis Obispo opened a new 50-bed mental health center.

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