Director of the Department of State Hospitals: Who Is Pamela Ahlin?

Monday, January 05, 2015
Pamela Ahlin

The Department of State Hospitals has not had a permanent director since it was carved out of the much-derided and now-defunct Department of Mental Health during Governor Jerry Brown's 2012 government reorganization.

It does now.

Brown appointed department Chief Deputy Director Pamela Ahlin, 51, to replace Acting Director Cliff Allenby.  Her department’s primary responsibility is overseeing eight violence-plagued forensic state health facilities: five psychiatric hospitals and three psychiatric facilities within prisons. The department serves more than 6,000 patients and has a budget of $1.6 billion.

Ahlin was born in 1963 and graduated from Vacaville High School in 1981. She received a Master of Arts degree in leadership and organizational development from Fresno Pacific University in 2011.

Ahlin started work for the government in 1991 when she was hired as a correctional officer at Avenal State Prison. She moved to Corcoran State Prison in 1996, taking a position as an associate governmental program analyst. Her next job, in 1997, kept her in town with the same title at a facility so often confused with her then-current employer, it was called Corcoran 2. She stayed at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Corcoran for five years.

In 2001, Ahlin transferred to Wasco State Prison, where she served as a staff services manager until 2005. After Wasco, Ahlin held multiple positions, including executive director and hospital administrator, at Coalinga State Hospital.

Ahlin was elevated to deputy director of Hospital Strategic Planning and Implementation in the now-defunct state Department of Mental Health 2012. The department had been under federal oversight since 2006. She took over supervision of the 350-bed mental health unit at Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad under trying circumstances in May 2013.

About two months later, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ordered an independent review of mental health facilities now run by the newly-created Department of State Hospitals, for whom Ahlin now worked. He cited an “urgency of the issues at hand,” including doctor shortages, treatment delays, premature release of patients from inpatient care and a “denial of basic necessities, including clean underwear.”

The judge said officials had “divorced themselves from reality” by claiming that steps taken by the state during 18 years of court supervision had fixed problems with mental health care, and gave a court-appointed special master 75 days to report back to him on conditions at the Salinas Valley psychiatric program.

Governor Brown appointed Ahlin chief deputy director at the Department of State Hospitals in December 2013 to replace Kathy Gaither, who was placed on administrative leave after being accused of sexual harassment and discrimination. Gaither was eventually cleared.

Ahlin is married with three children and lives in Lemoore. Ahlin is registered without party preference.

The position requires Senate confirmation.

‒Ken Broder


To Learn More:

California Department of State Hospitals Director Chosen (by Jeremy B. White, Sacramento Bee)

Gov. Brown Names Pamela Ahlin Head of Psychiatric Hospital System (by Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times)

Governor Brown Announces Appointments (Office of the California Governor)

Problems Persist in Calif. Prison Mental Health Ward (by Paul Elias, Associated Press)

Judge Adds Probe of State Mental Health Facilities to Ongoing Scrutiny of Prisons (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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