Public Values

Georgia may completely privatize troubled mental-health system

Deaths of patients linked to already insufficient, poorly-trained staff.

Commissioner BJ Walker of the Department of Human Resources is in favour of privatizingby Jay Bookman, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

December 11, 2008 — For reasons that aren't quite clear, Georgia may soon try to completely privatize its troubled mental-health system. According to Commissioner BJ Walker of the Department of Human Resources, privatization offers "another way of looking at things" that could stimulate "real, positive change in mental health."

There's no doubt change is needed. Investigations by the Journal-Constitution have concluded that abuse, neglect and shoddy medical care contributed to the deaths of 136 patients within the state system from 2002 through 2007, and the US Justice Department has warned Georgia officials that conditions are so bad that they violate patients' civil and constitutional rights.

According to documents prepared by Walker's staff, the state is proposing to hire private contractors to build and operate new hospitals to replace dilapidated state-owned facilities, some of which are more than a century old. The documents claim the step is justified because Georgia lacks the money to build new state hospitals on its own.

But think through the logic, or rather illogic, of that: If a private company builds new facilities on the state's behalf, where exactly would the company get that money? Inevitably, the cost of those new facilities would still be borne by taxpayers, even if the money is hidden in private contracts.

In theory, of course, the profit motive will drive contractors to cut costs as much as possible, making operations more efficient. But that isn't the problem here in Georgia. As AJC stories have documented, the deaths of so many patients in the state system can be attributed to insufficient and poorly trained staff, and to the fact that Georgia ranks near the bottom in per-capita spending on mental-health care.

Cost-cutting driven by privatization — with no increase planned in funding — is certain to compound rather than cure the problem.. . .

To read further . . .

Links and sources
  Privatizing government can backfire on taxpayers, by Jay Bookman, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 11 2008

Posted: December 14, 2008

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