City to Privatize Mental Health Services  

From Washington City Paper:

The department had been pushed to assess its mental health centers for a while. This past summer, it hired KPMG to study whether the centers should go private. The departmental back story is referenced in a report released earlier this month.

The conclusion of the study, Baron says is simple: If DMH privatizes its centers, it will save a lot of money and have a chance to increase the number of residents it helps. The department would save between $11 and $14 million.

The savings would come from an obvious source. “I think frankly it comes down to labor costs and the benefits,” says Phyllis Jones, DMH’s spokesperson. “The private providers tend to have cheaper labor costs.”

A number of years ago I worked in the mental health "industry". I was a member of SEIU and I ran a small work site used to help people with severe mental illness to transition back to work.

They were a very unique bunch from some who heard voices to those who were depressed with severe rage issues and there were also the ones that were quiet, just struggling to make it through the day. All in all, they are some of my best memories of working.

Then, Ohio privatized mental health care. I was replaced by what was then known as a SOS worker, or a State Operated Service worker. A few displaced by the issues related to the privatization and closure efforts coudln't just be "fired" they were protected by their union, AFSCME. Because the SOS worker would be free (I was told for 1 to 2 years), I was replaced by them. My agency could utilize the worker and then consider hiring them down the road, but in the meantime, they'd get a free year, maybe 2.

So, when I read about the privatization efforts, I began to wonder if DC will offer something similar. The workers and their unions have fought for a very long time to bring up the rate of pay and benefits for city service organizations and the services provided to the mentally ill are not small. Working with the mentally ill takes a very patient and very dedicated person. I'm not sure that privitization for mental health services will be good or bad for the city at this point. I do know that for the 200+ workers currently doing this job, looking for new employment in the middle of a recession is not going to be welcome news.

One additional note, I hope SEIU and CNA are looking to unionize the private mental health service organizations not currently unionized. These workers deserve a hand up to pay them more for the hard work that they do, and more importantly, to provide good benefits for that work. After you've had to restrain one client, you'd better understand what I mean about having better benefits.

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