Advocacy groups sound alarm that privatization could negatively impact patients, employees, & Terrell, TX community

June 19, 2014

Austin, TX - A majority of advocates are sounding the alarm after the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) issued a Request for Proposals for operation of Terrell State Hospital on June 9th. According to the RFP, DSHS plans to award a five-year contract as soon as August 15, 2014.

Opponents of privatizing the state hospital quickly expressed concern that privatization would further compromise the public’s ability to oversee and regulate what happens inside the facility. Terri Burke from the ACLU of Texas said, "We are concerned that the private operation of Terrell State Hospital will lead to substandard care with less public oversight, putting taxpayers at greater risk. For these reasons, we oppose the privatization of Terrell State Hospital."

Harrison Hiner, Legislative and Political Organizer for the Texas State Employees Union stated, “We hold firm our belief that ‘all State Hospitals are essential to providing low income Texans with mental health services’. The work done at Terrell State Hospital is vital, and its workers are dedicated to providing top quality mental health care. Privatizing Terrell State Hospital would put at risk both the patients who live on campus as well as the 902 employees currently working there.”

In 2012, when DSHS issued an RFP to privatize Kerrville State Hospital, the sole bidder was GEO Group, a for-profit prison corporation whose application promised a 10% cost savings.

After an outpouring of opposition from the local community of Kerrville, as well as from a coalition of faith, labor, mental health , grassroots, and civil liberties groups, DSHS Commissioner Lakey rejected GEO Group’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.”

Representative Harvey Hilderbran also opposed the proposal, stating in a 2012 interview with the Austin-American Statesman that, “privatizing Kerrville State Hospital would have likely resulted in a serious decline in both patient care and jobs for the area.”

The motivation behind the RFP for to privatize the Terrell State Hospital is yet unclear, but mental health advocates are calling for transparency in DSHS’ decision process. “The state provided no prior information about this RFP to advocate and consumer stakeholders,” according to Lynn Lasky Clark, President and CEO of Mental Health America of Texas. Advocates are particularly concerned about the prospect that the facility could be turned over to a for-profit company. “States should not relinquish the ability to regulate standards so as to ensure and monitor care and safety,” said Bob Libal, Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership. “DSHS certainly should not turn control of the state hospital over to a for-profit prison corporation like GEO Group.”

Public testimony will be received at the DSHS Sunset Advisory Committee hearing on Wednesday, June 25th at 9 am.

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Contact: 

Bob Libal, blibal@grassrootsleadership.org, (512) 971-0487