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GEO Group faces opposition in bid for state hospital

GEO protestor in Del Rio
GEO protestor in Del Rio
GEO Group is facing increasing opposition to its proposal to take over a state hospital in Texas.  We reported last week that the Austin American Statesman's Andrea Ball had reported on fines being leveled against GEO Group's Montgomery County psych facility and plans to privatize a state mental hospital moving through an RFP process.

Now, a coalition of mental health advocacy, civil rights, and criminal justice reform groups (including my organization Grassroots Leadership) has sent a letter to state officials opposing the take-over by GEO's subsidiary, GEO Care.  Written in the letter:   

"We are concerned that the requirement to cut 10% from the hospital’s budget through privatization can only be achieved by reducing the quality of care at a hospital run on an already austere budget.  Texas already spends the least per capita on mental health than any other state, at slightly less than 1/3 the national average. 

Furthermore, we are particularly concerned that the only respondent to the request for proposal was GEO Care, a subsidiary of private prison corporation GEO Group. GEO Group has a long history of mismanaging the facilities it is charged with operating."

The signatories site recent events in Texas and several other states: 

"The list of scandals to which GEO can lay claim is a long one.  In the past five months alone, the company has made local and national headlines over multiple scandals perpetrated at several different facilities it operates.  In April, GEO contracts at three facilities ended in Mississippi, including a youth facility that a federal judge described as having “allowed a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate.”  Last week, the Associated Press reported three gruesome deaths, including a patient who died in a scalding bathtub, at GEO’s South Florida State Hospital.  And in our own state, the Austin American Statesman reported that GEO has been fined by DSHS for problems at the GEO-run forensic psychiatric facility in Montgomery County, including “unauthorized restraint and seclusion of patients, incomplete medical records, failure to show patient consent for medications and failure to report serious injuries to the state.”

GEO also has a long history of operational problems at its facilities in Texas.  In 2009, prisoners at GEO-operated Reeves County Detention Center rioted over issues at the facility including poor quality of health care and multiple prisoner deaths.  In 2007, the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center was shut down due to the unsafe and unsanitary conditions under GEO operation."



I recently participated in the reviews conducted by DSHS at the Geo facility in Conroe and reported on by Andrea Ball. While I cannot disclose anything not available to the public, I encourage everyone to get the reviews conducted by DSHS mental health division and licensure. The problems were many and not all were disclosed. I personally interviewed patients who disclosed that since opening, their food amounts had been cut nearly in half. When this was pointed out to the facility rights officer, she said, "oh, that again! I took care of that once before. The rights officer in question was fired from a county mental health agency for lax oversight of private foster care agencies which led to abuse, neglect, and overmedication of children so severe that the court intervened. She also was denied jobs twice due to fraudulent billing for consulting in Louisiana and illegally charging moving expenses to a county MH center in Ohio. She, despite this record, was selected in Florida to oversee Geo contracts for DCF. Now she is back in Texas as the GEO "rights officer".

The entire team of reviewers, including licensure, is adamantly opposed to selecting this vendor based on what we experienced in Conroe. The problems were not paperwork. Staff complained about violence and understaffing and a psychiatrist complained about being directed to alter medical records. Patients complained that the groups are a sham and that they are frequently locked in a small glassed in area together with one or two staff and nothing to do. Medical problems were identified but not followed-up. Restraint and seclusion was performed without a doctor order or justification. Patients are given multiple drugs without valid consent. Just as bad, community MHMR centers have complained that people who are competent are allowed to time out despite passing competency exams and are dumped on the porch of the local centerwith no aftercare plan or warning to the local community.

Despite reviewers from the mental health division making findings, certain findings were edited out by the contract manager for the hospital without reason other than "they are taking care of it". For the first six months, the abuse number for patients was blocked by the hospital. Once fixed, the hospital still claims few reports of abuse, despite a worker describing the facility as "bedlam" in a patient chart and meeting with patients to discuss "punishing" violent patients. Interestingly, the patients at this hospital are not coming in with significant histories of violence. They are all misdemeanors with homelessness, vagrancy, and petty theft charges. The violence is created by the environment, with most of the violence occuring as the patient stays longer, rather than the predictable pattern of initial violence subsiding as a result of treatment.

The hospital has been cited for beig a male only facility. They were supposed to be co-ed. Male only facilities are banned in Texas for psychiatric hospitals due to creating an aggressive, criminal justice culture. Their correction plan was to have monthly socials with females from the community. One cannot make this stuff up. Despite not correcting this, the finding was removed from the second review by administration along with the finding that the facility was not giving patients state mandated rights information.

The agency was not going to move forward with the fines, but were forced to due to publicity of this fact. Now, they are dragging out the settlement because the sanctions, by state contracting rules, would make them ineligible for the RFP to run a state hospital. The fine was reduced due to "improvements", but no subsequent review occured to evaluate said imorovements. This whole thing is being bum rushed by a few people who have neen communicating all along with Geo afficials and were even aware of which hospital was bid on before the bid was submitted.

I am not a brave state employee writing this at great risk to my job. I resigned from my rights protection job last week and believe the truth must be told. Reviewers who are reading the RFP have signed a gag-order.


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