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After Corizon's Contract Cancellation, What Happens To Prison Health Employees?


As a private prison health provider’s contract with the state draws to an end, some wonder how Corizon’s cancellation of the contract will impact Florida inmates as well as employees.

Corizon Health is the nation’s largest private prison health care provider company. It serves more than 110 correctional facilities, which includes work camps, across the state.

In a video featured on their website, former Corizon CEO Woodrow Myers talks about the benefits of privatized prison health care they provide.

“We are healthcare providers first and foremost,” he stated. “Quality of care is number one on our agenda. We are going to be as aggressive as we can in making sure our team is optimally prepared to do the best job we can do for our clients and our patients. Period.”

But, back in January, Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones told some Florida lawmakers that the private prison providers in charge of inmate’s health care wasn’t up to par.

By October 2013, the state fully privatized the inmate health care services. Corizon covered most of the state, and another company, Wexford, covered the Southern region.

“The standard of healthcare with our current providers is not at the level that’s required by their contracts, and we’re working very diligently with those two vendors to try to get the standard of care up to the level that’s required in those contracts,” said Jones, speaking during a committee hearing.

In addition to working with Corizon and Wexford, Jones had also already begun looking into rebidding those contracts to other providers. But, on Monday, Corizon sent a letter to Jones, stating it was terminating its current contract with the state and will stop the services by the end of May next year.

In a statement, Corizon’s new CEO Karey Witty said while they’d tried to address the department’s concerns, they found the terms of the current contract “too constraining.”

“If the constraints were to provide the proper health care for the inmates, then if that’s too constraining, then, they don’t need the contract,” said Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville).

Gibson is the Vice Chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, which is looking into these issues. The chair, Sen. Greg Evers (R-Baker), is one of the lawmakers who has made unannounced visits to correctional facilities and expressed concern.

Like Evers, Gibson has also expressed her disappointment in the medical services rendered.

“I find it interesting that Corizon would terminate, rather than us terminate with them, which I’m sure they probably knew it was coming,” she added. “And, it’s good. It’s time that we do better by inmates, while they’re in our care and custody, because they are still human beings, whose health issues should be recognized and taken care of.”

But, what about the employees, who will soon no longer be employed by Corizon?

“I am not certain about that, and that’s probably something I would discuss with the chair of the Criminal Justice [Sen. Greg Evers], and probably ask him to have a presentation so we understand all the ramifications,” Gibson replied.

And, Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) had similar thoughts. He says it’s really up to Secretary Jones to come forward with a plan.

“So, I anticipate hearing from her very soon about what her plan of action is to make sure when May comes around, that there is no break in services and that we have a seamless transition to the next provider,” he said.

Still, some unions already have an answer to that particular question: transfer those Corizon employees back into state employment.

Worried about the loss of thousands of state employee jobs, AFSCME and the Florida Nursing Association were part of a lawsuit to stop the state from privatizing prison health care services.

The unions lost, and while Corizon and Wexford employed many, there were still hundreds of layoffs as well as others moving to work for other state agencies.

“We did have employees go to Corizon, and we have received calls over the last couple years that working conditions were not as good as the state employment that they had before and they were concerned about patients and inmate safety,” said Jeanie Demshar with the Florida Nursing Association.

Demshar says she’s not surprised by this turn of events. And, she adds her organization is now working to save the situation.

“We did predict that something like this would happen,” she stated. “As you know, we did file lawsuits and were involved in several legal actions contesting the privatization, but we did, in the end, lose. So, we did predict that the contracts would not provide adequate care for the inmates, and of course, a lot of our state employees lost their jobs. We are taking the position now that the state should return those positions now to the state employees.”

Demshar says her union is already in contact with the legislature and the Governor’s office to start those talks.

Meanwhile, Jones says she’s already working to ensure a “seamless delivery of services.” She’s also indicated despite the cancelation, the rebidding process may still be open to Corizon.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.