By Katharine Ligon
A coalition of mental health and civil rights advocates, as well as Texas Legislators, are celebrating the recent decision by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) not to privatize the Kerrville State Hospital, one of 10 state mental health facilities.
This all started when the 2009 Legislature directed DSHS to privatize a state mental health hospital, with the stipulation that the selected bidder had to reduce hospital costs by 10 percent. In January 2012, DSHS asked private entities to demonstrate how they would operate the facility at the required lower cost.
From the get go, the coalition of advocates strongly opposed privatization of a state hospital. These facilities provide critical inpatient treatment and care for some of Texas’ most vulnerable citizens who suffer from a serious mental illness. And, Texas has not historically funded the hospitals sufficiently to serve the level of need. So any proposal to operate the facility with an even tighter budget would likely jeopardize the quality of care for the patients.
Advocates were equally alarmed that GEO Care, a subsidiary of GEO Group, was the only entity to want the job at the time. GEO Group, which operates private prisons, jails and detention centers worldwide, and GEO Care had been cited by federal and state departments for failing to properly insure the safety and well-being of patients. Violations include hiring a convicted sex offender as a security guard, a direct-care worker sexually assaulting a juvenile male at a Texas juvenile detention center, over-medicating mental health patients, lack of supervision of patients with known histories of suicide risk several of whom died by suicide, and improperly restraining and secluding individuals.
The DSHS commissioner gave GEO Care’s proposal a score of 64 out of 100. To meet the financial stipulations, GEO Care proposed to reduce the operational costs by reducing staff and benefits “to a degree that DSHS concluded would put both our patients and the State of Texas at risk,” the commissioner wrote to the Governor. Therefore, GEO Care’s proposal was denied.
Unfortunately, our fight isn’t over. There are more plans to find ways to privatize state mental hospitals. No matter which private entity gets the contract, the bottom line is we’ll lose oversight and accountability of facilities that care for some of our most vulnerable Texans.
We’ll keep you updated on our efforts around this issue.