The state has tentatively tapped a private company to run Terrell State Hospital, a psychiatric facility mired in problems over the last few years.
On Monday, state officials announced that Correct Care Solutions — formerly known as Geo Care — had the winning bid to run the Northeast Texas hospital. But mental health advocates are protesting the move, saying state officials have refused to answer their questions regarding the push to privatize the facility.
“There was a shocking lack of transparency in the process, which raises alarms about transparency in the contracting and oversight of the facility and patient care,” said Lynn Lasky Clark, president of Mental Health America of Texas.
But considering Terrell’s own troubled history, state leaders say hiring Correct Care might be the best way to improve the Texas hospital.
“We need to look at all the options on how we can deliver better care,” said Stephanie Goodman, spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Commission.
Correct Care provides mental health services in residential psychiatric facilities in Florida, South Carolina and Texas, which care for about 2,000 patients. Earlier this year, it acquired Geo Care, which had come under fire numerous times over the years for poor care and the deaths of patients.
While the state has tentatively blessed the company’s offer, no contract has been signed, negotiations are ongoing and the state could ultimately decide against privatizing. A decision is expected to be made by the end of the year.
“In the event that this happens, we’re honored to be chosen as the successful vendor for this project,” said company spokesman Jeremy Barr.
Terrell State Hospital, which employs 980 staffers and serves more than 250 patients, came under public scrutiny in April 2013, when the American-Statesman wrote about the case of Ann Simmons, a 62-year-old Pittsburg woman who died after being restrained at the hospital for 55 hours. The newspaper’s reporting spurred federal authorities to investigate the Northeast Texas facility. Conditions were so bad that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services threatened to cut off the hospital’s federal funding unless the facility improved. It did and it kept its federal money.
But that’s when Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek decided to see if a private provider could do a better job, Goodman said.
“Dr. Janek looked at the care Ms. Simmons received, had some concerns about how we delivered care there and thought about how we could improve that,” she said.
In June, the state solicited bids to operate the hospital. Four groups expressed interest: Correct Care Solutions, Timberlawn Mental Health System, Green Oaks Hospital and UT Health Northeast. Goodman declined to say if any besides Correct Care submitted bids.
Mental health advocates say they were blindsided by the privatization move, but Goodman said there are limits to what the agency can say during an open procurement process and the state won’t know the answers to many of advocates’ questions until it goes through the negotiation process.
“We’re going to work closely with advocates and others on the level of services that we should be providing and how to get there,” Goodman said.
In April 2013, the American-Statesman reported on problems at Terrell State Hospital that led to the death of a woman held in restraints for 55 hours. State officials say that coverage led them to consider privatizing the Northeast Texas hospital. Officials hope that a private provider can bring better care to the more than 250 patients who live there.