Monday, March 12, 2012

More Than Money at Stake in Prison Health Care Privatization

(03/12/12) HARRISBURG, Pa. - As Governor Tom Corbett pushes the idea of privatizing health-care services in Pennsylvania prisons, those who work behind bars say it could compromise security, jeopardize public health, and invite more inmate lawsuits.

Frank Smith, a national expert on for-profit prison privatization, says this situation has already played out in many other states, where a private company promises quality management and big savings, and delivers on neither.

"If I were to describe their business model in one word, I'd say it was larcenous; corporations that hire people at the lowest possible rate, high turnover. They have gotten their business through campaign contributions, through bogus research. It's extremely disturbing."

Michele Harker is a registered nurse who works in the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon. She says proper medical treatment keeps inmates from spreading diseases behind bars and to the public after they're released. She adds prisoners are quick to threaten legal action when they don't feel they're getting adequate care.

"If you have somebody coming in there that isn't aware of how this all works, and they're not providing that health care, I think that the amount of lawsuits that we're going to see is going to keep going up and up."

Neal Bisno, president of the labor union SEIU Healthcare PA, predicts hundreds of jobs around the state will be at risk, unless Governor Corbett comes to terms with what Bisno says many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle already realize.

"There really is a very strong, bipartisan consensus that, when it comes to corrections and it comes to security, we can't risk putting those services out to the lowest bidder, and to entities whose fundamental obligation is not the people of Pennsylvania, but to their bottom lines."

One of the biggest players in prison privatization, Corizon Health, says it offers staff expertise, cutting-edge technology and safeguards to optimize performance and accountability. Still, in 2010, the company's contracts weren't renewed in neighboring Delaware or Maryland.

Later this week a state House Majority Policy Committee has a hearing on the issue, spearheaded by Republican state Representative Mike Fleck. He is the sponsor of House Bill 1985, which would ban privatizing nursing services in state prisons.

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