Thursday, January 18, 2018
Health

Privatization of health care in Florida prisons in peril

TALLAHASSEE — The largest privatization venture undertaken by Florida's prison system is in peril, and when the new fiscal year begins Sunday, it might be doomed, in another political victory for organized labor.

The Legislature ordered the Department of Corrections last year to hire private companies to provide health care to all 100,000 inmates at a savings of at least 7 percent in the first year of a five-year contract.

But lawmakers didn't pass a law to require privatization. They mandated it in the fine print of the budget known as proviso, and two unions, for prison nurses and state workers, filed suit, challenging the action as unconstitutional.

The judge has not issued a decision, but the unions and the state were back in court Tuesday.

Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll wanted both sides to answer a question: What happens to a budget proviso when the fiscal year ends and a new budget, without the same language, goes into effect July 1?

Both sides agreed the proviso expires with the budget.

But Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Glogau, representing the prison system, argued that under a different law, the prison system can privatize inmate health care on its own.

Glogau added that as of July 1, the judge can't issue an order blocking privatization because there's nothing to enjoin. "On July 1st, this case goes away," Glogau told the judge.

Attorneys for the Florida Nurses Association and AFSCME, a public employee union, disagreed, and threatened to file another lawsuit if the state persists in privatizing health care in prisons.

"If they want to start a new procurement — if they think they have that authority — we'll be back," said M. Stephen Turner, attorney for the nurses' union.

The privatization venture is hobbled by another problem. The Legislature required that a contract award must be approved by the Legislative Budget Commission, a panel of 14 lawmakers that meets throughout the year to approve budget changes.

The commission will not meet before the fiscal year ends.

As the legal battle grinds on, the Department of Corrections is struggling with an estimated $30 million deficit that now could grow even larger, because lawmakers reduced the prison budget in anticipation that the outsourcing of health care would occur.

The budget is so tight that Department of Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker says he will take $30 million from next year's budget to make the final payroll of the current fiscal year, and he has created an internal task force to look for ways to cut costs.

In April, Tucker tentatively selected two vendors: Corizon Health of Brentwood, Tenn., in the north and central part of the state, and Wexford Health Sources of Pittsburgh in South Florida.

Tucker declined to say whether he would press ahead with privatization if he loses in court.

"I have not made a decision," Tucker said. "It would be premature."

Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

Comments
5 things we learned about Trump from his medical checkup

5 things we learned about Trump from his medical checkup

Five things we learned about President Donald Trump from Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the doctor who oversaw Trump’s first medical checkup in office. SLEEP Trump doesn’t get much shut-eye. Jackson guessed that Trump snoozes four to five hours a nig...
Published: 01/17/18
A century after the 1918 pandemic, science takes its best shot at flu

A century after the 1918 pandemic, science takes its best shot at flu

WASHINGTON — The descriptions are haunting. Some victims felt fine in the morning and were dead by night. Faces turned blue as patients coughed up blood. Stacked bodies outnumbered coffins. A century after one of history’s most catastrophic disease o...
Published: 01/17/18
A popular school fundraiser is just ‘junk-food marketing to kids,’ experts say

A popular school fundraiser is just ‘junk-food marketing to kids,’ experts say

For 43 years, schoolkids and their parents have clipped the labels from cookie bags and cracker boxes as part of a popular rewards program called Labels for Education.Through this and similar programs — think Tyson’s Project A+ or General Mills’ Box ...
Published: 01/17/18
Pinellas is at the center of a rise in Florida flu outbreaks

Pinellas is at the center of a rise in Florida flu outbreaks

Feeling a little sniffly or scratchy or stuffed up? It may be the flu, and you don’t want to wait around to see a doctor this year. This is not the time to write off flu-like symptoms, Tampa Bay area health officials and doctors warn. The influenza v...
Published: 01/16/18

CDC says ‘There’s lots of flu in lots of places.’ And it’s not going away anytime soon.

A nasty flu season is in full swing across the United States, with a sharp increase in the number of older people and young children being hospitalized, federal health officials said Friday.The latest weekly data from the Centers for Disease Control ...
Published: 01/12/18
Mease Countryside Hospital begins $156M expansion project

Mease Countryside Hospital begins $156M expansion project

SAFETY HARBOR — Mease Countryside Hospital is launching a $156 million expansion to build a four-story patient tower with all private rooms and a four-story parking garage.The tower will include 70 private patient rooms, a 30-bed observation unit, cr...
Published: 01/11/18
Flu shot? This is why you should still get one this year

Flu shot? This is why you should still get one this year

This year’s flu season is shaping up to be a bad one. Much of the country endured a bitterly cold stretch, causing more people to be crowded together inside. The strain that has been most pervasive, H3N2, is nastier than most. And, we’re being told, ...
Published: 01/11/18
He was 21 and fit. He tried to push through the flu — and it killed him.

He was 21 and fit. He tried to push through the flu — and it killed him.

Kyler Baughman seemed to be the face of fitness. The 21-year-old aspiring personal trainer filled his Facebook page with photos of himself riding motorbikes and lifting weights. He once posted an image of a kettlebell with a skeleton, reading: "Cros...
Published: 01/11/18
Serena Williams tells scary story of childbirth complications

Serena Williams tells scary story of childbirth complications

The image on the cover of the February issue of Vogue features Serena Williams proudly showing off her adorable daughter.The story she tells of the changes wrought on her life by the arrival of Alexis Olympia, whom she calls by her middle name and ...
Published: 01/11/18
‘Pregnancy centers’ draw scrutiny as lawmakers seek to elevate their status

‘Pregnancy centers’ draw scrutiny as lawmakers seek to elevate their status

Annie Filkowski used to see the signs during her drive to school each morning. "Free pregnancy tests," they said.So when she feared she might be pregnant at 16, shortly after starting to have sex with her boyfriend, she remembered them. And walked in...
Published: 01/10/18
Updated: 01/12/18