California Prison Doctor Who Is Barred From Treating Patients Earned $777,423

He's Highest-Paid Employee in State Despite Checkered History

ByABC News
July 13, 2011, 11:03 AM

July 13, 2011 -- The highest-paid state employee in California last year, earning $777,423, is a prison doctor who isn't allowed to see patients, state officials said.

Dr. Jeffrey Rohlfing, 65, has successfully appealed attempts by the receiver who oversees California's prison health-care system to dismiss him and is working in the medical records office at High Desert State Prison in Susanville, said Nancy Kincaid, a spokeswoman for the receiver, J. Clark Kelso.

He hasn't seen patients since 2005 and has a history of mental illness, she said.

Rohlfing earned the standard salary for doctors in the prison health-care system last year, $235,740, Kincaid said. He also got two years' back pay after a November 2009 ruling upholding an earlier decision that the state had to hire him back.

"We had no choice. Clark Kelso did not want to have this doctor on staff, but was ordered to take him back," she said.

A lawyer for Rohlfing could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jacob Roper, a spokesman for State Controller John Chiang, confirmed that Rohlfing was California's highest-paid employee last year. Second on the list was another prison doctor, Dr. Fong Lai, who earned $736,000, he said.

Rohlfing was placed on probation for five years in 1996, according to Medical Board of California records, because of "bizarre, irrational and delusional communications" with the staff of Valley Children's Hospital in Fresno, where he then worked.

In July that year, he appeared at the hospital "disheveled…agitated" and strongly smelling of alcohol and accosted a staff member, who called police, according to the board records. After a car chase with police, cops placed him in psychiatric hold. Two weeks later, he was again placed in psychiatric hold.

Despite his history, Rohling was hired as a prison doctor in 2003, Kincaid said.

Rohlfing had originally been put on paid leave in 2005 after failing to send two patients with chest pains to emergency rooms despite a history of heart trouble, she said. His supervisor found that in both cases the care had been "substandard," according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

His clinical privileges were revoked and he was fired in 2007. But he won his appeal to the State Personnel Board in 2008 for being terminated, Kincaid said. The state appealed but the ruling was upheld. Health officials, who still didn't have confidence in Rohlfing, voted to continue the revocation of Rohlfing's clinical privileges, Kincaid said.

He is one of six doctors at the prison, which has 4,275 inmates, she said, and has attended a skills evaluation program at the University of California at San Diego.