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Supervisor Fletcher pushes back against outsourcing at Jails

07/06/20

Read the full article by Jeff McDonald and Kelly Davis in the San Diego Union-Tribune here.

Sheriff Bill Gore, whose department has racked up millions of dollars in legal claims and settlements related to allegations of lapses in medical and mental health treatment in county jails, is exploring the possibility of outsourcing more or even all of the county’s inmate healthcare services.

A labor relations manager at the county Department of Human Resources acknowledged the prospect in a letter sent to the president of the labor union that represents hundreds of nurses and other medical staff at the jails.

“The Sheriff’s Department will be exploring options available regarding the use of contract service providers for inmate medical and behavioral health services with the focus on providing the highest quality medical services at the best value for the taxpayers,” the June 19 letter says.

“No decisions have been made at this time,” labor relations manager Clint Obrigewitch wrote to David Garcias, the Service Employees International Union Local No. 221 president.

Sheriff’s Department spokesman Lt. Ricardo Lopez declined to answer questions about the possible transition to outsourced medical services within the jails.

“The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department receives numerous requests for audio, video and written interviews on a variety of topics,” he said by email. “Unfortunately, we are unable to grant your interview request at this time.”

The acknowledgement from the county labor manager is required under the union’s collective bargaining agreement because outsourcing could result in county jobs being lost.

The union represents about 300 jail nurses, supervisors, social workers and pharmacy technicians.

Garcias said chronic understaffing of jail medical and behavioral health services too often has led to tragic consequences for inmates. He predicted more bad outcomes if the work is put out to competitive bid.

“Any plan to outsource responsibility to for-profit contractors, lacking transparency and accountability to the public, should be halted immediately,” the union president said.

The SEIU added that the job of providing medical and mental health treatment to jail inmates should be taken away from the Sheriff’s Department and moved over to the county’s Health and Human Services Agency.

“It’s time to shift the responsibility of the care and support of the incarcerated population to the medical and behavioral health professionals under HHSA,” Garcias said.

The seven jails under Gore’s jurisdiction have experienced at least 42 coronavirus infections. Department officials said Thursday that 24 inmates have tested positive since February; they previously confirmed 18 cases among employees.

Inmates told The San Diego Union-Tribune in April that they lacked face masks, cleaning supplies and other protections against the virus. Inmates photographed with a bed sheet painted with the words “We Don’t Deserve 2 Die“ were disciplined after the newspaper published the picture.

“Addressing the poor quality of behavioral health and medical treatment in our jails will not get better by turning it over to private contractors,” said Fletcher, who has endorsed the idea of moving responsibility for inmate health over to the Health and Human Services office.

“Our current hybrid system of private contractors and county workers is not working,” he said.