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Call to Privatize State Hospital Comes Up Empty

The Texas Department of State and Health Services (DSHS) has failed to comply with a directive from the state legislature – but not without good reason.

Last session, the legislature asked DSHS to review proposals from companies interested in privatizing a state hospital, with the provision it be run at ten percent savings for four years. The agency was told to bring an approved proposal to the Legislative Budget Board and the Governor’s Office of Budget, Planning and Policy by Sept. 1. Instead, yesterday DSHS submitted a letter to those two agencies explaining why they were empty handed.

There was only one proposal submitted, by GEO Care for the Kerrville State Hospital. DSHS graded the proposal a 64 out of 100.

“Savings in the proposal were achieved primarily through reductions in staffing and benefits,” DSHS Commissioner David Lakely wrote, “to a degree that would put both our patients and the State of Texas at risk.”

The proposal cut overall staff by 21 percent and psychiatric nursing assistants by 29 percent. “It is my belief that these staffing levels are not sufficient to serve the individual needs of patients at this facility,” Lakely said, “or to ensure a safe environment for patients and staff.”

The San Antonio Current detailed GEO Care in a withering profile published Sept. 26. The Current wrote the following about a GEO facility in Montgomery County:

DSHS found a litany of violations at the facility ranging from unauthorized seclusion to keeping patients hospitalized months after they'd been found competent to stand trial. In its review of the facility, DSHS's state hospital division noted serious injuries and incidents that were never reported to the state.

This effort to privatize another hospital in Texas has stalled, but the option isn’t closed.

“DSHS supports the intent of the Texas Legislature to find innovative, effective and efficient models of providing psychiatric care to individuals with mental illness,” Lakey said. “We will continue to work with our elected leaders and communities across Texas to provide effective and cost-effective mental health care.”

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