Austin, TX - The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) announced yestarday that they are awarding a tentative five year contract to GEO Care, a spin off and former subsidiary of private prison company GEO Group, to operate Terrell State Hospital. Texas HHSC hopes to have a decision on whether or not the state will enter a contract by the end of the year. This award comes as a result of a HHSC Request For Proposals (RFP), issued on June 9, 2014.
The RFP to privatize Terrell State Hospital caught stakeholders by surprise; there was no mention of the State’s plan, not even to local officials in Terrell, Texas. Despite mental health advocates repeatedly calling for more stakeholder input after the RFP was released, the decision making proceeded without any outreach to include these groups.
“This RFP process has been notably less transparent than what we saw in 2012 with the attempt to privatize Kerrville State Hospital. It raises serious concerns that advocates and people living with mental illness will continue to be left out of decisions that impact the quality of care the state provides,” says Lynn Lasky Clark, President and CEO of Mental Health America of Texas. “Mental Health America of Texas will continue to work with other advocates, people living with mental illness, and state leaders to demand transparency and high-quality care.”
In 2012, when HHSC issued an RFP to privatize Kerrville State Hospital, the sole bidder was GEO Care, a for-profit corporation whose application promised a 10% cost savings. In the end, and alongside open opposition from a number of advocacy groups, DSHS Commissioner Lakey rejected GEO Care’s bid on the basis that the proposed cost savings would be achieved by staffing cuts “to a degree that would put both our patients and the State of Texas at risk.”
Harrison Hiner from the Texas State Employees Union maintains that “As the largest public service union in the state of Texas, Texas State Employees Union stands opposed to the privatization of any of our public state hospitals. It is very troubling that the state chose to pursue contract negotiations with GEO Care, a private corporation with a long a track record of mismanaging facilities and imposing inhumane conditions on vulnerable populations placed under their care. In the latter part of 2012, the state Texas rejected GEO Care’s bid to manage Kerrville State Hospital; due to the fact that GEO Care’s proposal was to achieve a 10% cost reduction by significantly reducing staff and benefits to a degree that jeopardized the quality of care to the patients. Texas should learn from that previous experience and not pursue a contract with Geo Care. As a whole, privatizing any state hospital undermines Texas’ ability to provide vital mental health services to its citizens and exposes dedicated state workers to unnecessary layoffs and reduced compensation.”
Advocates are concerned about the possibility of detrimental consequences as a result of contracting with a private company; including the possibility of seriously compromising the public’s ability to oversee and regulate what happens inside the facility. This is especially true for GEO Care, a company with roots in the private prison industry, who has had a long history riddled with controversy and lawsuits.
“If we are prioritizing health, care, and safety, then contracting with a private prison company like GEO Group is not the best solution for our mental health facilities in Texas,” says Eshe Cole, mental health and criminal justice policy coordinator at Grassroots Leadership. “Since the top priority of companies like GEO Group is making a profit, the cost-saving approaches that oftentimes result in cuts to staff and key services would likely result in a serious decline in patient care. History shows that the results are often disastrous.”
Eshe Cole, Grassroots Leadership, email@example.com,
Gyl Switzer. Mental Health America of Texas, firstname.lastname@example.org,