Humpday Hall of Shame: TX Health and Human Services Commissioner Janek takes tips from GEO Group on how to privatize mental health hospitals

The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission regularly reviews state agencies to assess functionality and efficiency. This year Texas’ Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) is under review. During its response to the Commission yesterday, Health and Human Services Commissioner Janek felt compelled to use his time in front of legislators to promote privatization of state hospitals which provide voluntary and court-ordered inpatient mental health treatment.

The Sunset Staff Report, which called for immediate action to address the “current crisis in the state mental health hospital system,” did not include recommendations that warrant the privatization of state hospitals. Yet Comm. Janek touted the recent release of a Request for Proposals to run Terrell State Hospital as a supposed solution. "We are in the business of operating facilities when we could contract with someone to operate those facilities,” he began. “I don't feel any hesitation if the private sector can run our facilities, I think they could offer something."

Comm. Janek illuminated some of the decisions that led to the way this RFP was drafted. In 2011, Grassroots Leadership helped block an attempt by DSHS to privatize Kerrville State Hospital, which he briefly mentioned. The sole bidder, GEO Care, a subsidiary of private prison company giant GEO Group, was rejected due to unsafe levels of staff reduction based on the RFP’s requirement to cut costs by 10 percent. Comm. Janek revealed that he spoke with that bidder back in 2011, GEO, who gave him the idea that rather than ask for a 10 percent cost reduction, DSHS could draft the RFP to ask that the vendor serve more patients at the same level of spending.

We believe there to be little difference between reducing staff to cut costs and increasing caseloads with no increased costs. The outcome would be the same: compromised patient care and public safety. Furthermore, we find it shameful that one of state’s highest public servants is taking advice from a for-profit prison corporation about how to get away with providing mental health services at dangerously low funding levels.

To add insult to injury, although Comm. Janek apparently allowed a private prison company and potential bidder to weigh in on the RFP, local public officials were not notified and there were no opportunities for the public to submit questions or concerns before the state moved forward with the RFP. The Terrell Tribune covered HHSC’s lack of transparency, highlighting the fact that although it is a state hospital, its operation is a city issue as it affects people served in the community as well as hospital employees. Why so much secrecy, Janek?

Stay tuned for more as we continue to oppose attempts to privatize yet another Texas state hospital.

You can watch the full Sunset Advisory Commission Hearing from 6/24/14 and Commissioner Janek’s comments here. (DSHS segment begins at 6:36:00).