Prisons will contract for health care

Jul 17, 2012

The following article was published in The Florida Current on July 17, 2012:

Prisons will contract for health care

By Bill Cotterell

In a cost-saving move affecting nearly 3,000 Department of Corrections employees, the prison system announced plans Tuesday to privatize inmate health care services with two companies.

“We still will continue to work with our employees and seek the best solutions for them and the inmates we serve,” DOC Secretary Ken Tucker said in announcing the deal. “Change isn’t easy and we know that it can sometimes be unsettling; however, the hard work of our employees is greatly appreciated and recognized. As this transition occurs, we appreciate their continued dedication to the people we serve.”

He said prison employees currently working in health care will be considered for jobs with Corizon Inc. and Wexford Health Sources, after contracts are signed.

If the plan is approved by the joint Legislative Budget Commission, it could take three or four months to complete the state’s third attempt in 12 years at “outsourcing” prison health care. The two previous efforts ran afoul of cost and management problems.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and Florida Nurses Association filed suit to stop the move. Union lawyers told Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll in May the contract should be stopped because the DOC relied on provision language in the budget, when it sought proposals from companies interested in operating the medical services in prisons.

The state countered that even if he struck the proviso language, the department had authority to make the management decision and purchase health services.

Carroll ruled the issue moot, as the budget containing the proviso language expired June 30. But he retained jurisdiction and AFSCME, which represents nonprofessional health care workers, appealed to stop the department from acting on its own.

 AFSCME state president Jeanette Wynn, a retired hospital attendant from Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee, said Scott was making “politically motivated power plays” to reward Republican campaign contributors with state contracts.

“Gov. Rick Scott is not above the law,” Wynn said of the DOC decision to proceed with contracting. “He cannot charge ahead with this scheme to funnel more of our tax dollars to his big-business buddies without the input or the Florida Legislature or the legal system.”

Four companies bid on the work in three DOC regions. The department previously selected Corizon for the Northwest and Central regions and Wexford for South Florida prisons, with a $359 million first-year price tag.

Separate from medical services, Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislators sought to privatize all prison operations in the vast South Florida area of the state during the past two sessions. Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford blocked the first attempt, ruling that lawmakers improperly used proviso language in the budget to do it, and the Senate voted 21-19 against privatizing prison operations in the most dramatic floor showdown of this year’s session.

Efforts to reach union lawyers on the contracting announcement, which was made by the DOC late Tuesday, were unsuccessful.

“It’s a decision that’s best for the department and taxpayers,” Tucker said in announcing that his department is moving forward. “This step will allow us to provide the same services we currently have, which meet state and federal standards, while saving money for the taxpayers.

“This step will be a cost savings in excess of 7 percent, using private vendors. This move is in line with legislative intent to find cost savings within the department’s budget.”

To make sure the department went through with privatization of health care, the Legislature cut $14 million from the prison system’s budget this year.

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