Florida DOC, Private Prison Health Providers Respond to Union Accusations
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That conference featured state Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston; attorney Tom Brooks, a lawyer for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); and Doug Martin, legislative director of AFSCME Florida. The three criticized proposals by the DOC to contract with for-profit Wexford Health Services and Corizon Correctional Healthcare for the provision of health care services to some three-fourths of the state’s prisons.
Martin claimed the move to privatize would not save any money, and cited the state’s own reported projections.
“In the [LBC] staff analysis of [this proposal], they note that the current health services budget is $347.5 million and the total contracted for is $353.8 million,” he said. “So the contracts cost is more than $6 million greater than the current health budget. This is not something that is going to save money; it will cost more money.”
But DOC communications director Ann Howard insisted those facts do not tell the whole story.
“It’s pretty simple math,” she told Sunshine State News. “Yes, [under our proposal] the money that would be re-allocated for prison health care privatization would be short $6 million therefore giving us a $6 million deficit. But here’s the alternative: If we do not proceed with health care privatization for inmates we will be looking at a $60 million deficit. So if we have $6 million over here and $60 million over there, the choice seems relatively obvious.”
Howard said it would cost the state some $405 million to provide public health care services to prison inmates, about $51 million more than the proposed contracts with Wexford and Corizon. A major chunk of that savings is expected to come from the fact that the state will no longer be subsidizing those employees' benefits.
Howard pointed out that, according to the proposed contracts, every state employee will be guaranteed an interview with, though not employment by, Wexford or Corizon.
“Current employed will not be obliged to take these interviews, but that option will be given them for sure,” she said. “These private providers will be looking to hire health care service professionals, and if you don’t work for us right now, you won’t be guaranteed an interview.”
At Tuesday’s press conference Martin also claimed that the amount of savings the DOC projects the contracts would bring are based on figures that are two years old, and so out of date.
The state is relying on 2010-2011 numbers because “they could not save 7 percent over current costs and build in the profit margins these companies will no doubt enjoy,” Martin charged.
Attorney Brooks characterized the DOC’s use of these numbers as so much “smoke and mirrors.”
Brooks confirmed that the claimed extent of savings is based on fiscal year 2010-11 expenditures, but insisted this was not deceptive.
“We were given direction by Florida lawmakers to proceed with the privatization of health care for inmates two legislative sessions ago,” she said. “That’s when we started this process. This process has been going on since then.”
Martin also had some choice words to say about Wexford and Corizon. He said privatization of prison health services “has been a disaster every time it’s been tried, particularly in Florida.
"It’s unbelievable that Wexford Health Services is taking over Region 4 [i.e., the area which extends from Bradenton to the Florida Keys] when just 10 years ago they had the privatized health contracts for Region 4, but they abandoned that contract because they were not able to meet the terms of it."
But Ryan Banfill, a spokesman for Wexford, says Martin has his facts confused.
“Wexford has never abandoned a contract in Florida,” he told Sunshine State News. “Back in 2005 it was the Legislature which, through the budget process, put the contract out for a bid again. The company that got the contract after it went through that process was called PHS at the time. Once PHS got the contract, it determined it couldn’t do it for the amount they were going to do it for, so they tried to get more funding for it and that didn’t happen; and so they left.”
Banfill offered one possible explanation for Martin’s confusion: PHS eventually merged with another company to form Corizon, which is indeed the other corporation the DOC wishes to contract with.
Corizon came under particular fire Tuesday, when Martin cited a verdict three days ago by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, upholding a $1.2 million verdict against the corporation. An inmate in Lee County successfully sued after suffering partial permanent paralysis due to inadequate care received from health care providers provided by Corizon.
Corizon spokesman John Van Mol told Sunshine State News federal privacy laws prevent discussion of individual patients, but noted the company is looking forward to working with the Florida Department of Corrections, and with the nurses who currently work in the department.
“In states like Florida where Corizon has assumed the responsibility for inmate health care, between 97 [percent]and 99 percent of the positions have been filled by the nurses and health care staff who already were working there,” Van Mol said.
“In Florida, these dedicated nurses are the people that Mr. Martin represents, and he seems to think they’ll do a bad job -- ‘be a disaster,’ to use his words, under Corizon supervision,” Van Mol said. “Quite the contrary, Corizon believes these nurses will do an excellent job, and it will be Corizon’s job to support the good work they do, caring for patients.”
Reach Eric Giunta at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.