County looking to privatize jail medical care
By Ken Jackson
The Osceola County Commission voted Monday to give the county manager and his staff approval to start negotiations with a private firm to provide healthcare services to inmates at the Osceola County Jail.
The 3-1 vote, with Commissioner Mike Harford opposed and Brandon Arrington absent, did not sit well with the jail’s current medical staff made up of county employees.
A few members of the jail’s current health care staff implored the board to keep things the way they are, as many of them have at least 10 years of service at the jail.
“Our quality of care is excellent, and we’re operating with board certified staff that can manage the care,” said Jean Barthelemy, a nurse practitioner. “Our costs have remained competitive for 14 years. Privatization does not minimize county’s liability.”
He said that new personnel brought in to the jail’s medical unit would require added training and would have to be brought up to speed on protocols, something not necessary with the mostly-veteran group in place now.”
Maria Calderón, another member of the jail medical staff, said the current employees have worked out discounts and other specials with local hospitals for outsourced medical care.
“We are cost effective, private entities are for profit and can’t get those discounts,” she said.
Jail officials would not comment on the issue.
With the go-ahead vote, the county will begin negotiations with Armor Correctional Health Services of Miami, one of three companies that submitted qualifying proposals after the county solicited submittals from companies back in 2013 through its online vendor notification system.
After county procurement officials ranked the three companies, administrators compared the cost of top-ranked Armor to the county’s budget to continue performing the services internally. While concluding maintaining current services provided an adequate solution, they said the county would experience a cost savings by having Armor perform the service.
Deputy County Manager Beth Knight told commissioners Monday that the Corrections Department has no control over some costs like pre-booking, when an arrested suspect requires treatment at a hospital or other facility prior to being booked into the jail.
Harford said without good reason to, like diminished care or service, he couldn’t vote for the change.
“I’m looking for the savings and we’re not even showing a 10 percent savings here,” he said.
Commission Chairman Fred Hawkins said he wanted to see what kind of contract county staff would put together after working with Armor.
“I see the word negotiations here. This is just a starting point,” he said. “Our staff does tremendous job.”