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Northern California Prison Doctor Earns $239K To See No Patients

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Sierra Conservation Center, California prison, Jamestown, Tuolumne County

Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown, Tuolumne County. (CDCR)

JAMESTOWN, Tuolumne County (CBS 5) – California’s prison system, the nation’s biggest and most expensive with a $10 billion yearly budget, is paying a prison doctor nearly a quarter-million dollars a year – even though he treats no patients.

The state spends more money on prisons than on higher education. Even as the state budget shrinks, California is spending more and more to lock up prisoners.

It costs about $45,000 a year to keep an inmate at a state prison. About a third of that cost is health care, a cost that is only going to rise along with the age of the inmates. Contributing to that cost is one doctor at the Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown, Tuolumne County who makes $239,000 dollars a year according to state records.

William Savage, a prison doctor, still has an office at the Jamestown facility, but his nameplate has been taken off the door, and he hasn’t treated inmates for four years.

According to Nancy Kincaid, the medical receiver’s spokesperson, “Dr. Savage is not allowed to treat inmates or provide medical care.”

The public can’t really know why. Because of privacy statutes, all the prison system will say is that Dr. Savage is being evaluated by a peer review committee to see if he’s competent to practice. However, Dr. Savage is still collecting a paycheck, and he’s got a tasty reputation.

“He was best known for passing out donuts and candy bars,” explains Daryl Wein, a former physician’s assistant at the Jamestown prison, which houses minimum and medium custody inmates and trains them in fighting wildfires.

Wein was hired as a physician’s assistant under contract, at more than $18,000 a year, in part to cover the duties that Dr. Savage could not perform, according to Wein.

He said Savage, better known as the “donut doctor,” was very popular with the staff. According to Wein, Savage often brought candy bars, ice cream and even hamburgers to the prison staff.

So why is Savage still getting paid, amid a four year investigation into his competence as a doctor? Civil service rules require that you have to go through certain steps in order to terminate an employee. The prison system cannot terminate the doctor but at the same time it cannot allow him to see patients.

So, Dr. Savage remains in legal limbo until a committee decides his fate. In the meantime he’ll continue to make close to a quarter of a million dollars a year, and come to work at a place where he’s best known for handing out donuts.

Dr. Savage did not respond to multiple requests to be interviewed for this story.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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