State’s Highest-Paid Employee—an $800,000-a-Year Prison Psychiatrist—Sits Idled by Suspension

Friday, December 14, 2012

Even by California standards, where the average prison psychiatrist makes $300,000 a year, Dr. Mohammad Safi was doing exceedingly well―until he was suspended.

The Afghan-educated doctor earned $822,302 in 2011, making him California’s highest-paid state employee. Most of Safi’s money, $503,000, was on-call pay for being available in case of emergency. He averaged more than 76 hours a week of overtime, according to records reviewed by Bloomberg News, which is running a six-part series on “America’s Great Payroll Giveaway.”

Safi often stayed at a motel near the facility when on the clock for after-hours work, his lawyer, Edward Caden, said. The doctor was suspended with pay in July while investigators examine the overtime compensation.  

Safi lives in Newark, about 100 miles from Salinas Valley State Prison, where he is supervising senior psychiatrist. Five psychiatrists report to him. Caden said his client worked continuously and at one point was on-call for 672 consecutive hours for the 370-bed psychiatric facility run within the prison by the Department of State Hospitals.

Last year, 16 California psychiatrists, including Safi, made more than $400,000 and 93 made more than $300,000. Data compiled by Bloomberg on the country’s 12 largest states indicated only 12 psychiatrists matched that lower level and only one matched the higher level.  

California prisons have been under intense court scrutiny for years because of poor medical care in the overcrowded facilities. Court directives to improve health care kicked off a bidding war in 2007 for prison psychiatrists and pay rocketed. The median income of California’s government psychiatrists rose 58%, to $251,060, between 2005 and 2008.

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean at the Yale University School of Management, told Bloomberg the reason was obvious. “These irresponsible public officials have artificially constrained the market with an unnaturally limited supply pool, either due to laziness, incompetence, corruption or all of the above.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

California Psychiatrists Paid $400,000 Shows Bidding War (by Freeman Klopott, Rodney Yap and Terrence Dopp, Bloomberg News)

California Prison Psychiatrist under Investigation for $800,000 Pay (by Thomas Peele, San Jose Mercury News)

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