Program improvements resulted in lawsuit dismissal in 2012
Juliana Burns, Intern
CDCR Office of Public and Employee Communications
Bad oral hygiene can contribute to heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes, digestion problems and dementia. Those who are incarcerated have a much higher percentage of unmet dental needs.
Dental health is the second most reported problem among inmates, usually due to lifestyle choices before their incarceration.
Dr. Morton Rosenberg, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) Statewide Dental Director, works tirelessly so the system he manages can provide inmates the care they need to escape their dental discomfort and deter serious health problems.
Born and raised in Sacramento, Dr. Rosenberg has worked for CDCR for eight years, and has pulled from his experience with the Department of Health Services, Delta Dental, and owning his own practice for 10 years, to run a statewide dental program providing services to inmates in California.
“I saw an opportunity to make a difference and improve processes,” Dr. Rosenberg says when asked how he came into his line of work.
Dr. Rosenberg is in charge of CDCR’s entire dental program which includes overseeing and adapting to the ever-changing prison system and populations to ensure “every inmate gets timely and appropriate care.”
When asked to describe an unusual crisis that needed his attention, Dr. Rosenberg recalls, “at one institution there were several dentists who were out on long-term sick leave and we didn’t have enough back up. We had to act quickly to get dentists in there to provide care so we had to go a registry service, which is a contract service. The need was there so we had to makes sure the patients got the care.”
Dr. Rosenberg also ensures all new procedures and policies are communicated down to the institutions.
For example, during the California Correctional Health Care Services (CCHCS) development of the Electronic Health Record system, CDCR collaborated with CCHCS to include a more efficient way of maintaining records of medications dentists prescribed to inmate-patients who had certain oral conditions. During the system implementation, Dr. Rosenberg “kept everyone updated about what was expected of them, what the uses of the new program would be, and how to be prepared.”
“I’m a people person” Dr. Rosenberg says as he describes his job, “I love interacting with all different types of people and making sure patients get the care they require.”
When Dr. Rosenberg was appointed as the Deputy Statewide Dental Director in 2009, he, in coordination with the Statewide Dental Director at the time, Dr. Diana Toche (now Undersecretary for Health Care Services), were able to streamline the dental renovation program from an expected cost of $1 billion to an actual cost of $19 million.
However, what really makes him proud is the dismissal of the 2005 Perez vs. Cate lawsuit in which CDCR was found to have not been providing constitutionally adequate dental care to inmates. Under the leadership of Dr. Toche, all of the prison dental programs passed court audits to ensure every inmate was provided timely dental care and the lawsuit was dismissed in 2012.
“It was incredibly rewarding to be a part of an effort to improve these systems with all of these capable people,” he said. “Together we were successful.”
“I just want to be a good steward of the program,” he said. “My goal is to maintain our success and do the right thing as cost effectively as possible.”
The Dental Director’s job is little talked about outside of the prison system, but Dr. Rosenberg said that is a good thing.
He said he “stays off the radar in a good way” because if everything is going well, you will hardly know he is there.
Dr. Rosenberg quietly handles the moving pieces of a complex health program to ensure a better quality of life for every inmate.
It’s simple, he said.
“No one should suffer.”