Pa. DOC Plans on Outsourcing Mental Health Services

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is looking to save money and increase services to its thousands of inmates in the state’s correctional system. One way the department has planned to do this is through outsourcing mental health services, something that has caused great controversy with state legislators.

The department of corrections is planning to outsource services at 27 state prisons, according to a statement by the department. The state could contract out as many as 187 positions that are currently filled by department of corrections employees, according to a statement by Susan McNaughton, a spokeswoman for the department. The move will help save money and the positions that the department is planning to outsource include licensed psychologist managers, licensed psychologists and psychological service specialists.

Outsourcing services for medical and mental health is not new for the department, according to McNaughton. A private contractor already runs some prison medical, pharmacy and mental health services, McNaughton told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The department of corrections already has a $91 million contract with Virginia-based MHM Correctional Services to provide some mental health services, psychiatry and inpatient mental health, however the contract is set to expire in August 2013.

McNaughton said that the department is likely to rebid the contract several ways and would consider keeping the system as it is or privatizing the work now performed by the in-house staff. According to a statement by McNaughton made in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the vendor also can bid using “a psychology staffing model, which may differ from our current psychology staffing model based upon the bidder’s best judgment as to how to provide psychology services.”

Complaints From State Legislators

Although the department of corrections is seriously considering outsourcing its mental health services in over two-dozen state prisons, state legislators are pushing back, warning that mental health services should continue to be done by department employees.

In a memo issued to state lawmakers, Representative Mike Fleck noted that psychological services workers “are part of a comprehensive in-house system of safety and security that allows us to operate our already overburdened prison system. These employees provide direct ongoing mental health services to some of the most dangerous people.”

Fleck continued the memo by citing the need to keep government involved and the importance of the highly trained state employees.

“They also help evaluate readiness for release from incarceration. Any effort to outsource psychological services in the state prisons puts both our communities and the prison workforce at risk. The operation of the corrections system is a core government function. We believe this work to be fundamentally incompatible with the profit motive.”

According to department statistics, about one-fifth of the approximately 51,000 inmates in the state prison system require some type of mental health monitoring or treatment. State lawmakers think it needs to continue to be done by department employees in order to have the accountability that the government provides.

To-date there have not been any new contracts or resigning of existing contracts regarding mental health care in the state’s 27 prisons, although the issue is still a very heavy topic for the department of corrections as well as state lawmakers.