Florida's Treatment Industrial Complex a Disaster

Last month, the Tampa Bay Times and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune shed light on horrific conditions in Florida’s state-funded mental health facilities in a recent joint investigation -  with an offensive headline - Insane. Invisible. In Danger. Their findings were akin to Albert Q. Maisel’s Life Magazine report, Bedlam 1946: Most U.S. Mental Hospitals are a Shame and a Disgrace, published over 50 years ago. Roach infestations, sexual abuse, and 55 patient deaths are only some of what was revealed in this three-part series. In response, journalist, author and Florida-native, Carl Haissan, has called for the FBI to investigate these “torture chambers.”

Much of the situation is due to the fact that the Florida Department of Children and Families slashed the state hospital budget - $100 million in budget cuts - while drastically relaxing rules regarding injury and death, resulting in spikes in both. Violent attacks at the state’s hospitals doubled between 2009 and 2015. Furthermore, state regulators have been hiding the full extent of this violence and neglect from the public. In fact, multiple patient homicides were miscategorized as natural deaths.

The hospitals are overseen by the Department of Children and Families (DCF), but three of the six hospitals are run by a private company, Correct Care Recovery Solutions (CCRS). CCRS, a spin-off of the for-profit private prison company, GEO, LLC, also runs Florida’s civil commitment facility, the largest in the world. In Texas, the same company runs the Montgomery Mental Health Treatment Facility in Conroe and was recently awarded the contract to run the new controversial civil commitment facility in Littlefield.

This series comes after controversy over Florida’s privately run correctional healthcare earlier this year. A Palm Beach Post investigation exposed serious problems with health care offered in Florida’s prisons, which was privatized in 2012. Most alarming, deaths increased by 10% after Corizon Health, Inc. took over. As a result of such inadequate care, the state plans to re-bid its contract with Corizon at the end of the year.

Unfortunately, although Corizon continues to be expelled from states across the county (MN, MD, PA, MN, Rikers Island), the company still manages to secure new contracts. During Texas’ 84th legislative session, Corizon lobbied to have legislation introduced requiring the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to explore whether a private company could provide cost savings to the state. The bill was voted favorably out of the House Committee on Corrections, but thankfully stalled there. Currently, Texas has a unique model that utilizes a university operated correctional healthcare system. The original bill would have excluded the universities entirely.

Research conducted by the American Friends Service CommitteeGrassroots Leadership and the Southern Center for Human Rights documents the history and pattern of these companies. Correct Care Recovery Solutions and Corizon Health, Inc. are two of the biggest private companies among dozens profiting from the Treatment Industrial Complex. Even with their horrid track records, state leaders allow these for-profit companies to provide health and mental health care to individuals in state custody, ignoring case after case of abuse, neglect and death, blinded by short-term cost savings and political contributions. In Florida, the CEO of Geo Care, George Zoley, hosted a $10,000-a-plate fundraiser for Gov. Rick Scott. In Texas, former Health and Human Services Commissioner Kyle Janek was forced to resign earlier this year in the wake of contracting scandals, due in part to his close contact with a GEO and CCRS lobbyist, Frank Santos. A memo from Santos to Janek in 2013 detailed their plans to privatize multiple state hospitals over time.

As some allies and advocates have pointed out, privatization might make sense considering the poor state of mental health systems across the country. Both Texas and Florida have historically provided sorely inadequate funding for mental health and healthcare, creating expensive crisis service systems that are in crisis themselves. Publically run state hospitals are in dilapidated shape, often operating understaffed and with outdated systems. Unfortunately, as Florida has painfully illustrated, privatization does not improve care, nor does it provide long-term costs savings. Instead of contracting with for-profit companies with deplorable track records to solve these problems, perhaps investing in accessible and high-quality community-based, preventative care would be a more fiscally responsible and humane approach in the long term. Look for a more in-depth analysis of Correct Care Recovery Solutions and their role in Texas in 2016.