For Kini Seawright, and all the other women who bury a loved one due to police or prison violence...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

AZ privatizing prison health care to destroy state pensions.

I already posted on this yesterday morning, but I just came across Bob Ortega's piece in the AZ Republic, which is worth sharing as well. Note how the legislature ordered this move regardless of whether or not it saves money (or kills prisoners) - they just want to screw state workers out of their retirement plans. That's classic John Kavanaugh for you. Feel free to write him at the AZ House and tell him what a swell guy he is. He's still the chair of the House Appropriations Committee; looking at the state of our state, that should tell you a lot. He also runs a criminal justice program at a community college - no wonder he wanted to gut spending on universities. God forbid anyone here should get too smart - he needs us to stay poor and stupid so we can keep filling and staffing the prisons he wants to privatize.

Anyway, welcome to AZ, Wexford - we aren't putting up with any more BS from prison health care providers, so you'd better do right by our people right the first time around, or we'll run you out of this state.


Arizona prisons' health care to be run by Pa. company

Arizona's Department of Corrections awarded a $349 million, three-year contract Tuesday to privatize health care for prison inmates that will cost the state $5 million a year more than it spent in 2011.

The contract to privatize prison health care -- originally pushed by Rep. John Kavanagh as a way to save the state money -- was awarded to privately held Wexford Health Sources Inc. of Pittsburgh.

Wexford, which has previously lost contracts for poor service and was implicated in a 2008 payoff scandal in Illinois, bid $116.3million a year, $1.1million less than the second-place bid by Corizon Inc. of Brentwood, Tenn.

The contract, which is renewable for two additional years, was approved by Corrections Director Charles Ryan and reviewed by the Governor's Office before it was issued. Arizona spent $111.3 million last fiscal year on correctional health-care services for nearly 34,000 inmates in 10 state prisons.

Over the past three years, health-care spending by the Corrections Department has dropped nearly $30 million, in part because of a declining prison population and reduced staff levels.

After a prior effort to privatize prison health care failed last year, Kavanagh, Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, removed language from a bill that had required bidders to meet or better the Corrections Department's costs.

Despite the Wexford bid exceeding state costs to provide care, Kavanagh insists that, "in the long run, reducing pension costs" by eliminating hundreds of state employees through privatization saves the state money.

Lawmakers adopted legislation two years ago and revised it last year, requiring Corrections to privatize the health-care system regardless of whether it saves money.

However, Caroline Isaacs, director of the American Friends Service Committee's Tucson office, a prison-watchdog group, said, "This has never been about saving money; the real reason is that legislators are ideologically wedded to privatization and damn the evidence."

A Corrections spokesman would not comment on what will happen to about 600 state employees who work for the department's health-care division, but workers said they've been told that they will be interviewed for possible employment by Wexford.

Wexford spokeswoman Wendelyn Pekich declined to comment on whether Wexford will hire any Corrections employees. The Corrections spokesman said Wexford is expected to complete the transition to running health-care services by June 30.

Wexford, which provides health care under contract to 91,000 inmates in 100 jails and prisons in 10 states, was tied to a payoff scandal in Illinois. That state's director of corrections, Donald Snyder, served two years in federal prison after admitting he accepted a $30,000 bribe from a Wexford lobbyist to steer business to the company.

No Wexford officials were charged in the case. Wexford declined to comment on the bribery scandal.
The company also has had past problems meeting its contractual obligations. Clark County, Wash., declined to renew a contract with Wexford in 2009 at its county jail and juvenile-detention center after complaints that Wexford wasn't dispensing medications to inmates in a timely fashion, leading to psychological and behavioral problems with inmates on psychotropic drugs.

New Mexico terminated a statewide contract with Wexford in 2007 after an audit by that state's legislative finance committee found shortages of physicians, dentists and other prison medical staff and noted that the company had failed to issue timely reports on the deaths of 14 inmates the previous year.

Arizona hopes privatizing its prison health-care services will improve a system that has been criticized as inadequate.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Prison Law Office, a California-based prisoner's legal-advocacy group, filed suit in federal court last month charging that Arizona's Department of Corrections has denied adequate medical and mental-health care to inmates for weeks and months, even for life-threatening conditions.

The lawsuit says that understaffing, delays in providing medication and other problems have been persistent and systemic across all state prisons. The department has not responded in court to the suit and has declined to comment on it.

Dan Pochoda, the ACLU's Arizona director, said the Wexford contract won't affect the lawsuit or improvements in care that legal advocates for prisoners are demanding.

"The obligations on the state are the same," he said. "The Constitution is equally applicable whether the medical-care providers are direct employees of the state or contracted out to a private company."

The Department of Corrections said it will not release the contract document until Monday. Procurement officer Karen Ingram didn't give any reason for the delay.

However, if the contract provides the same terms as those spelled out under the request for proposals, Wexford will be audited quarterly and can be fined if it fails to meet performance standards spelled out in the contract, such as:

Completing a physical exam and mental-health assessment of all prisoners within two days of their arrival at prisons.

Triaging all inmates' health-care requests within 24 hours.

Completing referrals to a physician within seven days.

Maintaining adequate medical records.

Updating treatment plans and providing face-to-face assessments with psychiatric nurses at least every 30 days for seriously mentally ill inmates.

Having psychiatrists assess seriously mentally ill inmates on psychotropic medications at least every three months.

Developing re-entry plans for mentally ill inmates at least 30 days before they're discharged.

Such standards, if they are met, would be an improvement to the timeliness with which inmates receive medical and mental-health care, according to allegations in the ACLU-Prison Law Office suit.

There have been few national studies of the effect of privatizing correctional health care.

Kelly Bedard, an economist at the University of California-Santa Barbara who co-authored a 2007 study looking at privatization outcomes in 32 states, said that because private providers always have an incentive to save money and cut costs, the quality of care is highly dependent on how well a contract is written and on whether the state engages in meaningful, tough oversight.

Such oversight isn't common.

Bedard's study found that inmate deaths rise 2 percent for every 20 percent increase in privatization.