State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

The State House Sound Bites Podcast is now called State of the State and is a part of PA Post, a digital-first, citizen-focused news organization to hold Pennsylvania’s government accountable to its citizens.

Opponents exhale as state drops plan to privatize prison nurses

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | May 15, 2012 8:31 PM

Critics of a plan by the state’s Department of Corrections to outsource the work of its nurses to private companies are breathing a sigh of relief. 

Pennsylvania’s state prisons already contract with private companies for certain medical, psychiatric, and pharmaceutical services.  But SEIU Health Care Pennsylvania, the state’s biggest health care workers union, is rejoicing over news that nurses won’t be added to that list.

Rep. Mike Fleck (R-Huntington County), an outspoken opponent of such a move, said the training prison nurses receive makes them better equipped than private contractors to deal with prison inmates. He remembers a story of one nurse who had to intercept a back brace sent by a doctor to an inmate patient.

“She literally could take four steel rods out of it and really dismantle the thing and you had some superior weaponry there,” he said.  “So it’s things like that that just the normal person wouldn’t think about.”

Gov. Corbett announced last summer he would look into privatizing prison health care as a way to cut costs, and similar privatization plans have been floated by past administrations.

But Fleck, whose district includes two state prisons, said he’s not convinced privatizing nursing care in prisons isn’t cheaper than having nurses paid and trained by the state.

“The turnover rate is incredible,” said Fleck, referring to privately-employed nurses working in prisons.  “The money leaves the area because most of the private, contracting firms are not domiciled in Pennsylvania.”

Last fall, Fleck sponsored a bill to prevent the privatization of nursing staff in state prisons.  Republican Senator Dave Argall of Schuylkill County sponsored a Senate bill to do the same. 

“My predecessor, Larry Sather, introduced pretty much the exact same bill a number of years ago,” said Fleck. “10, 15 years ago Mike Veon had introduced the same bill, and typically the administration has backed away from it.”  Fleck said he’d still like to pass a bill to prevent such privatization efforts completely.



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