County employees say whistleblower complaints mishandled

August 27, 2016

whistleblower_hotlineBy KAREN VELIE

For years, San Luis Obispo County employees have lodged complaints about missing medications and conditions at the jail that they say endanger inmates and nurses.

More than four years ago, several medical staffers at the county jail began asking County Health Agency Director Jeff Hamm, Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein and Division Manager Michelle Shoresman to look into issues regarding a supervisor who they said appeared seriously intoxicated at work, missing inmate medications and staffing inadequacies. The staffers, who have asked to remain unnamed because of fear of retaliation, said their concerns were dismissed.

In addition, the medical staffers said they were ordered not to discuss allegations about a supervisor, Sue Cameron. In June, Cameron was caught on video stealing an inmate’s methadone and consuming the drug at work. Cameron was discovered the next day in her home in Cayucos where she suffered an overdose.

About two years ago, several county health department staffers filed complaints with the county’s whistleblower hotline. Auditor Controller Jim Erb said complaints were likely sent to the human resources department for an investigation.

Even though the hotline is supposed to be confidential, medical staffers said Cameron was aware of the whistleblower’s identities and that later both of the whistleblowers reportedly were forced out of their jobs.

Hamm said that the whistleblower’s identities were exposed because at least one of the complainants had provided her name in the complaint and that showed she was not seeking anonymity.

Susan Cameron

Susan Cameron

Nurses at the jail said Cameron’s recent overdose supports their repeated warnings about issues at the jail. On her last day of work, staffers claim Cameron put herself and the public in danger when she drove to her home in Cayucos while intoxicated on the drugs she had taken at the jail.

Hamm said that the county conducted a thorough investigation of the whistleblower complaints and determined the allegations were unfounded. Even though the prior complaints had been dismissed, the employees could be in trouble for failing to report Cameron’s apparent intoxication on June 6. The employees were required to report Cameron’s behavior on that day, Hamm said.

The nurses said several years ago Shoresman instructed them not to discuss Cameron’s behavior. But, Hamm said, that order was about gossiping and did not relieve them of the requirement to report Cameron’s drug use.

As whistleblowers asked for higher staffing levels, the county’s inmate death rate in 2014 was more than four times the national average. With an average summer population of 551 prisoners, three men died in the San Luis Obispo County Men’s Jail, or .54 percent of inmates, while the nation average is .13 percent, U.S. Department Justice data show.

In two of the cases, jail staffers did not provide medical care for inmates until they were unconscious. One man died from a drug overdose after flailing on a concrete cell floor for more than 20 minutes, according to the coroner’s report. Until he stopped moving, deputies offered him no assistance.

A second man died of influenza and a staphylococcus infection four days after he was discovered unconscious in his cell and transported to a local hospital. Jail mates claim he was sick for several days with coughing fits, but did not receive adequate medical care until he was no longer conscious.

The third man died of a heroin overdose. According to the coroner’s report, jail staff had not seen the inmate for 10 hours even though jail policy is to enter group cells every 30 minutes.

The jail provides adequate care, Hamm said.

“We have an obligation to maintain a standard of care which is difficult to quantify,” Hamm said. “We believe people are receiving an appropriate level of medical care. I don’t doubt they believe they are short staffed, but it is just a common complaint employees make.”

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I have been a visitor at the jail a few times last year. Unlike “Inmyopinion” I found the attending staff at the Mens’ jail to be cordial and friendly. They were attentive and didn’t pretend to be busy, making you wait unnecessarily. But on the other side, where they are released?Seemed every time I went to put $ on the books, the attendants there would do anything to make me wait. ?? Literally staring at a closed binder, anything to avoid eye contact,…..LOL ITs almost funny! Are they trained to “punish” the visitors there?

AND the guy incarcerated said he caught strep from his bunk mate, then he was refused and ignored when he requested to see the doctor several times. He never did get the antibiotics he so badly needed. All part of the punishment???? Hmmmm

For SLO County employees who are honest, upright, kind, compassionate, hard-working people…you are to be commended! On the other hand, it is utterly detestable that there are far too many SLO County employees who are so engrossed with themselves and their own “affairs” that they refuse to see past their own noses. THAT’S what THIS is all about–in one single word–SELFISH.

Is Hamm insane or just woefully inept?

Having delivered over 100+ photos to SLO SO all on camera, submitted over 12 sealed packages to Captain Chris Staley SLO PD, having been told by the NTF “SUMMER JOHNSON” false task force to cease to deliver items in sealed packages to the SLOPD but to now drop them off at the SLOPD NTF/GTF is sealed signed large sealed envelopes all documents by Command staff and all caught on SLSO cameras.

Having all 1,432 named individuals, businesses, civic leaders, business leaders, elected officials all who were on the “SUMMER JOHNSON” scam all the information was sent to the SLO County Grand Jury who by the way asked me NOT to reveal this to anyone else ?

So i was asked by a Federal Agency to cease all contact with all LEO’s and There departments in SLO, to now drop them off to the S/A down south in person which i did in a sealed singed very large [package] CCN uncovered the scam of “Summer Johnson” yet the GJ in SLO dropped the ball now the ball is in the safe hand of one very good Federal Criminal Agency.

Scott while others have disregarded your ramblings I have tried to always give you the benefit over the doubt for the last few years, but you keep making statements that information has been turned over to the feds, and still nothing happens You never indicate whether its new information or if they did not act on the previous information, you just keep saying it like it’s just happened.

The Summer Johnson issue is old and quite frankly, pretty small beans in comparison to the level of corruption that some suspect, so I don’t know why still seem fixated on that. If you have good information, why don’t you just give it to CCN so they can review it. I promise you that they are good people and you can trust them. They may not feel your info is up to snuff, but they won’t cause you any problems.

Thank you, Perspicacious. That really adds some “light” to Scott.

Good News 5 Law Enforcement officials were either fired, arrested and one was forced into early retirement. Three were caught by Federal Agencies. As the Federal Government moves all so slow, as more victims and witnesses come forth more will be held accountable.

Numerous pending criminal cases were dropped all due to LEO misconduct, and others were dismissed due to dirty LEO’s involved in the cases, the last one was the Narco cases the DA dropped since AJ was involved.

Kip Holland settled his case as he was beaten in jail, abuse by SLO PD who also settled as well as the City’s settlement over Officer A.Chaitin’s conduct. Kip was a PCI for the FBI who helped bring down one very corrupt Narcotics now X officer Pierce.

The “Summer Johnson” scandal as revealed by this very CCN has opened many cases for re-review as well as misconduct by those who placed names on it falsely.

Believe the employees.

After all of the “unfounded” determinations, after all of the complaints that went unheeded (because Michelle Shoresman is the division manager and NOT a nurse and Jeff Hamm’s boss is the board of supervisors), NOW Jeff wants to say that the nurses that didn’t report THAT ONE DAY will now face getting in trouble. Yeah, try that crap. Not that their union will do anything, but those nurses SHOULD go to the union if facing reprimand for accurately believing that this “anonymous” whistleblower line would actually STAY confidential AND that someone would actually follow up in a timely manner. I mean really, how many times can and should an employee report this behavior before they give up? I bet employees felt unheard and unsupported, on top of people quitting over the issues of pay, infrastructure, toxic work environment.

The nurses at the jail should strike if the reporting nurses are reprimanded in any way. They should also DEMAND a supervisor that will help establish proper protocol and procedures consistent with health care and prison standards. The nurses that stay are in it because they LOVE that job. They are underpaid by about $20 an hour. Look up a jail nurse pay at SLO County vs. CMC or ASH. Screw administration for treating them bad on top of paying them horribly. At least the druggie nurse brought them cake once in awhile. I am sure the working conditions at the jail drove this nurse supervisor to self medication. (And I STILL think it is HORRIBLE what she did).

Jeff Hamm gets paid over 250k a year to be a “yes” man to the board of supervisors and other staffers getting paid over 250k. Penny Borenstein cannot handle what she does and oversee the jail properly, so I think the County has been trying to recruit a deputy health officer for some time. No one wants the job because of the pay. Doctors want more than 270k a year to deal with the shenanigans and hand tying they would be faced with.

“I don’t doubt they believe they are short staffed, but it is just a common complaint employees make.”

YEAH Jeff – Right on! LOL – I wonder how many shifts you’d last in that god forsaken hell hole? From what I’ve read, it’s just another accident waiting to happen… (

As far as the ‘warnings’ that were dished out? What do you say YOU get locked in to a closed door brow beat session, given the ‘death stare’ and told you will NOT discuss this matter further? After you’ve seen a couple of people get the axe, are YOU going to stick your neck out? I seriously doubt it!

The entire situation reeks of a cover-up and I believe that it extends to the highest levels of the jail and health department administration.

Is there any doubt that RN Cameron will face charges? Don’t bet on it. A public trial would most likely involve all sorts of witnesses being called to the stand and revealing under cross examination what really goes on in that place. That’s undoubtedly the last thing ANYBODY in county administration would want! I’d bet that the DA has already been engaged in conversations on that note. What we, the general public read in the news is usually just the tip of the iceberg.

We already know that Dr. Penny Borenstein is an expensive do nothing, now we hear Hamm make lame and uncomprehensive remarks. Holy moly!

No wonder we have nothing but a reactive public health department that can barely take care of itself.

Things really went downhill after the old Public Health Officer, Greg Thomas (who as a side note runs the student health center at Cal Poly and it is fabulous!).

I think he saw where the administration was going and sadly jumped ship in order to do what he loved-serve the public.

The County Health Dept certainly knows how to spend lots of money for mediocre results.


Behavior Health Dept $52,000.000 286.25

Driving Under the Influence 1,350,000 12.00

Emergency Medical Svcs 851,000 .00

Law Enforcement Medical Care 4,210,000 20.75

Medically Indigent Svc Programs 1,526,000 4.75

Public Health 18,410,000 178.75

TOTAL: $79,346,000 502.35

Do you really think we get $79 MILLION worth of quality service. I did not go into the salaries and benefits but my guess it is a major part of the budget!

Well, look at that proposed budget and see how it is dispersed. Penny Borenstein and Jeff Hamm’s salary alone is 550,00 of the 18 million.

The link you posted didn’t work for me.

“Even though the prior complaints had been dismissed, the employees could be in trouble for failing to report Cameron’s apparent intoxication on June 6.”

Wow! They were pressured NOT to discuss or report the behavior but if they didn’t they could be in trouble for what they were being pressured not to do?

“But, Hamm said, that order was about gossiping and did not relieve them of the requirement to report Cameron’s drug use”.

Seriously? An “anti-gossiping” order? What is this, a grade school? How the heck are the employees going to corroborate evidence and report it unless they talk about it amongst themselves…sometimes “gossiping” is exactly what leads to this kind of nefarious behavior being uncovered and reported. I see a First Amendment violation here.

It is harassment. Talk about creating a hostile work environment. Just look up the people who have quit the Public Health division in the last 12 months. (Jail nurses are public health staff).

The real problem with the now exiting Grand Jury is they did nothing at all to investigate properly any of the complaints lodged against the County. Since the members are hand picked by local Judges thus they (Judges) know who is on the GJ and thus fill protected against the authenticity of the GJ from really investigating the problems and misconduct of the County at every level.

The outgoing GJ had over 5 complaints to investigate wrong doings, by county employees, city employees, retired civil servants, citizens of the community yet the GJ did (0) to investigate, in one case a letter from the GJ stated to a local citizen who inside information on serious abuse of power, thefts of county funds, perjured testimony yet the GJ passed it off to another time ?

Well since the Civil Grand Jury did nothing, it took the FBI, IRS and US Attorney along with the State Attorney General to actually indict, arrest and got convictions. Several County Employees, City employees got caught and the GJ whom had this information for a very long time failed at every level to protect the people.

I think we are lucky that ANY government agency took responsibility, at this point. The corruption and lack of civic duty on the part of those who are sworn to serve has reached epidemic proportions at ALL LEVELS of government. Since the Grand Jury has absolutely no authority to do anything beyond making recommendations and investigations are being conducted by persons without any professional experience or qualifications, it becomes the perfect dead end for complaints that will never be addressed by anyone. What is to stop people who have that very agenda from becoming a member of such a body? They have no personal responsibility whatsoever and therefore can be held to no accountability.

Ever since the events of 9/11/2001, a major portion of our investigative resources have been diverted to spying on the individual Americans, most of whom are NOT a threat to public security, at the expense of all other forms of crime investigation. This has been a bonanza for those who enter “public service” for the purpose of serving private interests for personal gain and for those private interests as well. I have first hand knowledge of this very situation. Fraud is rampant, both in business and in government, with little or no repercussions. We see this and even TREASONOUS behavior at all levels of government, without any attempt to even address the criminality of what is taking place.

In addition to this, cuts are constantly taking place to the very services that help to keep society functional and prevent tragedies and suffering within the private sector. These cuts invariably lead to more stress on emergency services and LE, which is also getting less and less training in the face of escalating complexities in their job. Those making the decisions, such as Congress, judges, etc.,get the very best health care in the nation and are paid quite handsomely while working only a fraction of the year, accepting perks, “donations” and “speaking fees” , etc., from those who benefit from their votes. While we pay for their ride.

Time for citizens to make a difference. Those with experience or abilities will have to care enough to enter positions where ever they can to make a difference. You may not agree with Bernie Sanders on everything, but it is hard to disagree on the fact that there is corruption and there is a need for us to be involved. Seriously, People, a death rate for someone held in custody that is 4X the national average????? That is an horrendous situation in a county as blessed and as beautiful as ours. We are, for the most part, educated and caring people. We can do better at every level. And we must!

Our County Jail System is a joke and has been for a while. Even if you aren’t in Jail, if you visit that Jail for any reason, drop money off for an inmate, go for a visit or just to get information about anything in general the officers on staff are extremely rude, lacking in any kind of assistance or any kind of people skills.You are immediately treated like a second class person.Literally for just being there. I understand they are running a Jail but to treat non inmates like they are low life just takes it to a whole new level.It just shows the mentality of how they treat their inmates.

Who lays the protocol for this type of behavior,?? Mr. Hamm? To leave a person / human being to lie flailing for their life sometimes for days until they feel or think, they stopped moving, Oh ok, maybe we should help. For real? Or maybe they don’t help because they don’t care. We can shout out about it all we want but until we step up and do something, this will never change. What to do ? maybe there needs to be a game plan because this whole system is failing and for loved ones who are making bad decision, a mistake or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, no person deserves to be treated this way. JMO. This story just shows how really messed up this County Jail and County Government is seriously going down hill fast.

“in general the officers on staff are extremely rude”, can’t figure out why?, it seems not only do you have to be caught on video committing a crime you also have to OD later with absolutely no chance to cover everything up about you activities to have any chance of being help responsible for your actions, so why worry about a little thing like being nice and professional, being rude and unprofessional is nothing you could loose you job over or that management will worry about or try to correct.