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State, vendor OK deal to privatize S. Fla. inmate care

Gov. Rick Scott's administration announced Thursday the state has signed a contract with a Pennsylvania based company, Wexford Health Sources, to outsource all medical care to more than 15,000 inmates in several South Florida prisons.

The Department of Corrections said it signed a deal to pay Wexford about $48 million a year, with a promised savings to state taxpayers of $1 million a month. The contract includes a 90-day transition period, so it is expected Wexford will actually begin work in March. An estimated 400 state workers are affected, but Wexford has said that most will be offered jobs with the company.

Four of the major prisons where health care is being privatized are in Miami-Dade County. They are the South Florida Reception Center, Dade Correctional Institution, Homestead C.I. and Everglades C.I. The others are in Charlotte, Hardee, Martin and Okeechobee counties and a prison annex in DeSoto County. The region accounts for about one-sixth of the state's total inmate population.

In December, a state judge struck down the planned privatization of inmate health care in prisons elsewhere in the state because the proposal was approved through a 14-member Legislative Budget Commission (the state is appealing that ruling). The outsourcing of prison health care in South Florida -- an area known as Region IV in prison parlance -- was not affected by that decision.

-- Steve Bousquet

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