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Rep. Adkins weeps in privatization war

Rep. Janet Adkins filed a host of amendments to block or soften the effect of the GEO Group-backed effort to privatize the Northeast Florida State Hospital in her district. But her most effective advocacy might have been the sniffles and tears she almost shed over the issue.

"This impacts not only Baker County. But Bradford County, Clay County, Nassau, Union Duval," she said in the Full Appropriations Council on General Government and Health Care. Her voice then started to break.

"Mr. Chairman I am happy that Rep. (Denise) Grimsley is working with us on this amendment and I would ask her to present it at this time," she said, unable to continue.

Grimsley presented an amendment that would attempt to guarantee employment for the state workers who face privatization. It would also allow DCF, which currently operates the facility, to bid for the job. The issue is being pushed by House and Senate leaders. But only a few of them. The head of both the House and Senate health budgets (Rep. Juan Zapata and Sen. Durell Peaden) opposed the issue being added in the final minutes to their budgets.

GEO Group has been generous this past election cycle to legislators. Through its corporate offices, PAC and directors it gave at least $240,000 to legislators and political parties, mostly Republicans who control the process.

Grimsley said she was not an opponent of privatization. She read a few letter from advocates who said that the privatization of South Florida Hospital was beneficial.

The amendment passed on a voice vote. Before then, during debate, Zapata pointed out the issue was barely discussed, debated or studied. Said Zapata of the amendment: "It's the best of some bad options. This issue was thrust upon this Legislature in manner that is not worthy of the work we do up here."

The only seeming voice of support, Sarasota Republican Rep. Doug Holder, pointed out that GEO privatized a South Florida hospital with good results. Holder argued that privatization would save about $7m. He said South Florida hospital has a high quality of care and a lower staffing ratio. Also, he said, 80 percent of South Florida employees

Getting herself together, Adkins stopped short of accusing GEO Group of complicity in a murder. She pointed to a 2007 case of a man, born to a "crack-addicted mother," who was released from the South Florida hospital only to kill a homeless Gulf War vet in South Florida.

Holder took issue with Adkins anecdote. He said "3,000 people have had good outcomes" in South Florida. "I charge you to look at all the information," he said.