Interviews beginning as health care is privatized at state prisons
Published: Friday, November 9, 2012 at 3:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 9, 2012 at 3:02 p.m.
Hundreds of medical workers at North Central Florida prisons will begin applying next week to keep their jobs as the privatization of inmate health care starts transitioning to a January takeover.
The privatization of health care statewide is expected to save the Florida Department of Corrections about $60 million, DOC spokeswoman Ann Howard said.
North Florida prison health care will be contracted to Corizon, a Tennessee-based company that provides medical services in prisons nationwide.
"It has been in the works for a very long time. It was done more than a year ago. This was a department decision, and the cost saving is going to be immense," Howard said. "One of the most expensive things we have to do is inmate health care, and it is a hard number to predict from year to year."
However, the Florida chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — the union known as AFSCME — said the move will result in lower benefits for health care employees who treat inmates. The union sued to try to block the move.
"Corizon and some of these other companies have spent heavily on lobbyists," AFSCME spokesman Doug Martin said. "Someone who spoke with them said their health benefits cost twice as much as what the state's do. The way they make their money is by having less health benefits, and they don't offer a pension."
The state is contracting with Corizon for $229 million per year to provide services in prisons in the northern and central parts of the state, according to DOC.
Wexford Health Sources is in line to sign a contract for more than $48 million a year for prisons in South Florida. However, that contract has not been finalized.
Wexford in 2000 had a five-year contract to provide health services to South Florida prisons. But the company said it could not provide services for the amount of the contract and sued to get an increase. The state did not renew the contract when it expired.
North Central Florida is rich with prisons. Alachua, Union, Bradford, Levy, Dixie, Gilchrist, Columbia, Lafayette, Putnam and Suwannee counties have state prison facilities. Not all of these facilities have medical staff.
DOC sent letters to affected employees regarding the process. The counties and the number of employees are: Bradford, 102; Union, 328; Columbia, 61; Suwannee, 122; Dixie, 18; and Gilchrist, 23. Union County is home to the Reception and Medical Center, which includes a DOC hospital.
Statewide, about 2,243 employees work in prison health care, representing about 8.5 percent of all DOC employees.
Cecil Copelin, AFSCME staff member in Gainesville, said he has not heard from any of the medical employees in the region who will be impacted by the privatization.
"Sometimes people are complacent. And some folks are rather afraid to speak out," Copelin said.
Howard said current employees will have a guaranteed interview with Corizon if they want one.
A public relations firm that represents Corizon said the company would not take questions from The Sun.
It did provide a statement stating that typically 97 to 99 percent of the employees it hires will come from the existing workforce of the agency to which it is contracted.
The statement added that Corizon provides "competitive wage and benefits packages based on market surveys conducted in Florida to ensure it hires the qualified health-care staff necessary to meet the needs of the contract."
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