State inks deal to privatize South Florida inmate health care

Published Jan. 4, 2013

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott's administration announced Thursday the state has signed a contract with a Pennsylvania company, Wexford Health Sources, to outsource medical care to more than 15,000 inmates in several South Florida prisons.

The Department of Corrections said it signed a deal to pay Wexford about $48 million a year, with a promised savings to state taxpayers of $1 million a month. The contract includes a 90-day transition period, so it is expected Wexford will actually begin work in March. An estimated 400 state workers are affected, but Wexford officials said most will be offered jobs with the company.

Four of the major prisons where health care is being privatized are in Miami-Dade County. They are the South Florida Reception Center, Dade Correctional Institution, Homestead C.I. and Everglades C.I. The others are in Charlotte, Hardee, Martin and Okeechobee counties and a prison annex in DeSoto County. The region accounts for about one-sixth of the state's total inmate population.

This is Wexford's second tour of duty in South Florida's prisons. A previous contract nearly a decade ago ended after the vendor and the state clashed over reimbursement rates, and Wexford prevailed in a legal challenge.

In December, a state judge struck down the planned privatization of inmate health care in prisons elsewhere in the state because the proposal was not approved by the full Legislature. Rather, it was approved by a 14-member Legislative Budget Commission (the state is appealing that ruling). The outsourcing of prison health care in South Florida — an area known as Region IV in prison parlance — was not affected by that decision.