Now that Florida’s Department of Corrections has auctioned off the job of providing state inmates with health services to the highest-bidding companies, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is moving ahead with his controversial plan to privatize prisoners’ health care. Since Florida is now locked into a contract with Corizon Healthcare of Nashville, and plans to sign a second contract with Pittsburgh-based Wexford Health Sources, Gov. Scott’s administration has already begun to lay off nearly two thousand state workers whose jobs have now become obsolete.
As the Miami Herald reports, nearly 2,000 state workers are beginning to receive notices that their jobs are ending, as part of the nation’s biggest push to outsource prisoners’ health care to private companies:
“Due to the outsourcing of this function, your position will be deleted,” reads a dryly worded dismissal notice from the Department of Corrections, sent to 1,890 state employees in the past two weeks. [...]
In the dismissal letters, prison officials emphasize that dismissed workers will get first consideration for new jobs at one of the two for-profit vendors, though with fewer benefits. The workers also expect to pay more out of their pockets for their own health insurance.
Many make less than $35,000 a year, have not had a raise in six years and live in economically distressed areas home to many state prisons, including Bradford, Dixie, Levy, Suwannee and Union counties.
Labor unions representing the affected health workers are already gearing up to fight against the Scott administration’s decision to outsource health care. As AFSCME spokesman Doug Martin told the Miami Herald, unions believe that privatizing prison health care is “bad for employees who will lose retirement and health benefits and probably pay,” as well as a “rotten deal for taxpayers.”
Although lawmakers like Scott tout privatization as an effective cost-saving measure to offset expensive care in the state prison system, private prisons often don’t actually save states any money. In reality, investigations into privatized prisons have found that states shift responsibilities to outside companies purely to cut costs and skimp on prisoners’ health care, often leading to “inhumane” conditions that have sparked legal challenges. Inmates in Arizona sued the state after it failed to provide adequate health care in its privatized prison facilities — leading to cases where prisoners were denied proper medical treatment and, in some instances, suffered preventable deaths.
In fact, the Arizona Department of Corrections recently leveled a fine against Wexford Health Services — one of the very same private companies that Florida plans to hire — after discovering repeated cases of negligent care in the prisons that Wexford took over. But that hasn’t stopped Scott’s administration from firing Florida’s health care employees in favor of a future relationship with Wexford.