California counties look to private firm to run new state psychiatric hospital

October 27, 2016
89.3 KPCC

A statewide consortium of county mental health officials is planning to create California's first privately-run state mental health hospital. It says it's the fastest way to address the persistent shortage of beds for the state’s most dangerously and severely mentally ill.

But critics of prison privatization worry care will worsen, pointing to past problems with the contractor, Correct Care Recovery Solutions, a spinoff of the private prison giant GEO Group.

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Still, many state and local governments are attracted to the private market's promise to drive down costs. That worries critics.

"They are securing these contracts by promising to treat the most people at the lowest cost," said Cate Graziani, a community organizer at Grassroots Leadership, a group critical of privatization. "And what this results in is a dangerous practice of cutting corners, especially staff. And this is where we see incidents of abuse, neglect and death."

Graziani points to South Florida State Hospital as an example. The facility was one of the first state mental health hospitals in the U.S. to be privatized. It was managed by a division of GEO Group until 2014, when Correct Care Solutions bought the unit.