Prison Health Care in Limbo

The state budget lists more than 200 specific appropriations to fund state prisons. Nowhere in any of those items and the directions that come with them is the privatizing of prison health care services statewide mentioned.


But that didn’t stop a small group of lawmakers from giving the department the okay to out-source health care to a private company.

"This privatization affects a lot of employees".

Now the plan is in court, where a judge asked how that could be done without the money being specified for a contract.

"Why? I thought that was always the law, that you had to appropriate money to enter into a contract," 2nd Judicial Circuit Judge John Cooper.

Opponents aren't saying the state can't privatize prison health care, what they are saying it has to be agreed to by the whole legislature.

"That's part of what democracy is. It gives us the opportunity to debate these issues to do it in a transparent way and for the people's voices to be heard and for the majority to rule," said Alma Gonzales with AFSCME.

"And that never happened in this case," said Attorney Thomas Brooks.

Until the judge rules, the state has put the brakes on transferring health care to the private company.

"The Department of Corrections does believe that we have the authority to privatize health care services," said Department of Corrections Spokesperson Ann Howard.

The lack of certainty is leaving JoAnne Mendez, who is an advanced nurse practitioner, and 1800 other prison health care workers in limbo. "They're afraid that they're going to lose the only job they have right now.”

And not knowing if they’ll have a job in January, or if they’ll keep their pensions and health care is making for a bleak and uncertain Christmas for 1800 families.

Lawmakers did authorize the privatization of health care in South Florida. The ruling on whether the state has now gone too far is expected next week.