AB109 straining Tulare County healthcare system

VISALIA, California

With a unanimous vote, Tulare County supervisors approved a new $9 million contract with Corizon, a large national company that provides health care for county jails.

Health and Human Services Director Dr. Cheryl Duerkson says her department has seen a large increase in the number of inmates who require medical care outside what the county can provide, and AB109 is a contributor. AB109 is a recent state law that requires non-violent offenders who would normally serve their sentences in state prisons, instead do their time in county jails.

Dr. Cheryl Duerkson said, "It has significantly impacted our ability to provide what we think are becoming increasingly specialized services in the correctional facilities."

For example, between 2010 and 2011, the number of inmates transported to other medical facilities nearly doubled. Tulare County's agreement with Corizon means an extra $1 million out of the general fund and a transfer of 38 employees.

The deal means the healthcare workers for the jails will no longer be employed by Tulare County, instead they'll work for Corizon.

SEIU Local 521 represents Tulare County's employees. Union officials say they're happy few people are being laid off as a result of the contract with Corizon. But they're disappointed with the decision to privatize the county's inmate health care.

Teneya Johnson with SEIU Local 521 said, "To use a company like Corizon who has a seriously bad track record in handling criminal justice health and mental health."

Local 521 says Corizon is facing numerous lawsuits relating to patient care. Corizon wouldn't comment on the litigation but says it manages more than 400 detention facilities in 29 states.

Carla Cesario Senior VP of Corizon said, "We have a lot of resources we can tap into to make sure we are providing the best healthcare."

Corizon will take over the county's inmate health services starting July 1st.

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