Marcie Boyer: Corbett’s Proposal to Privatize Nurses in State Prisons
Music intro: WAR – “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”
[Rick Smith]: I’ve got to be honest. I never thought I would hear a Republican talking about outsourcing and saying, “it’s just crazy.” Dave Argall, State Senator, Republican here, against the idea of outsourcing the nurses jobs at our State prisons. You look around the country what we’re seeing is we’re seeing the privatization of not only the prisons, but also the functions inside the prisons. And for those people who go, “Oh, yeah! Privatize it! Privatizing it better!,” because, you know, it’s more “efficient.”
Check out New Mexico who just fined the Geo Group who is one of the big, for profit prison industry people—just fined them $1.1 million for under-staffing, because they need to maximize profit. Now this is a company, Geo is a company, that made $1.1 billion in the first nine months of this year. It’s all about putting money in their pocket. They don’t care about the working people.
Now, understand, these people in these prisons, this is dangerous stuff. So, if you don’t have proper staffing and you don’t have proper training, you’ve got problems. And that’s why…you know, look…You’ve got two Republicans that are against it. Good on them for proposing a piece of legislation to not do this—what the Governor wants to do. I say, we shouldn’t be privatizing any of that stuff.
We’ve asked Marcie Boyer, she’s an RN and the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill, PA, to come talk to us. Today they were out with an informational picket. She’s here to talk to us a little bit about that. Marcie, thanks for taking time for me.
[Marcie Boyer]: Sure, I’m happy to be here.
[Rick Smith]: So the governor has this plan that the ten State prisons around the State…he wants to outsource the nursing jobs. Is that right?
[Marcie Boyer]: Correct, correct.
[Rick Smith]: I’ll tell you right from the start, it sounds like a dumb idea to me. No one has been able to show me where privatizing these kind of functions, saves me as a taxpayer any money, or, protects the workers either.
[Marcie Boyer]: Well…or protects the public even more importantly. This really is about the community and what happens when prisoners aren’t given the appropriate health care and then return to the community. They become your neighbors and my neighbors and now they have TB or Hep C or something that wasn’t treated because we’re all about profit rather than caring about the population that we serve.
[Rick Smith]: You know, I look at this job and I’ve got to be honest with you, Marcie, I wouldn’t want it. I wouldn’t want to be a nurse in a correctional facility. I’ve heard too many horror stories or inmates beating up nurses, raping the nurses…all of these horror stories. I look at this Geo situation…under-staffing levels…I hate to think about that happening here in our state, to my neighbors.
[Marcie Boyer]: Well…and we do too and I think that’s why we’re so adamant that this shouldn’t happen. I mean, we are part of safety and security in prisons. The nurses who work in prisons are trained. We go to the academy, we learn how to be safe and secure—as safe and secure as you can be—inside a state prison. The vendors don’t go to the academy, they don’t have that sort of training, and nursing is totally different inside the prison. Most nurses walk around with a pair of scissors in their pocket and bandages…you can’t do that inside a prison.
[Rick Smith]: Yeah, you walk around with a pair of scissors in a prison and that could be your throat being cut.
[Marcie Boyer]: Exactly.
[Rick Smith]: You know, I would hate to see…because here’s what it inevitably turns into down the road in my opinion and correct me if you think I’m wrong. You get these for-profit groups in there and they say hey, we need to get the lowest priced nurses to take these jobs, you have massive turnover, extremely high turnover rates. They end up going to a staffing service who says, “hey, we’ve got a job for you today. Go on over to this place.” They find out it’s a prison, and they’re not thinking the way you’ve been trained.
[Marcie Boyer]: Exactly. We have three agencies now that we can call if we are short-staffed and only one person from out of three agencies responds to those calls. So, it has been difficult. We have a pretty steady staff. We don’t work short. We are fortunate that we have enough nurses to come in and do the job. But, we’ve seen what happens. A number of years ago they tried this at Graterford [State Prison] and that’s exactly what they found out. People who came in one day, didn’t come back the next day. You know, you have to have a tough skin to work in prisons. You get called every name and have rude things said on many occasions and people who come in, don’t want to come back a second day.
[Rick Smith]: I honestly cannot imagine being a woman in a male prison.
[Marcie Boyer]: It’s a challenging job.
[Rick Smith]: I would say it’s a lot more than challenging. In can’t imagine. You know, it’s one thing for Herman Cain to sexually harass somebody, I can’t imagine what goes on in a prison setting.
[Marcie Boyer]: Well, we work with excellent officers here, very professional, and I think we’re well taken care of in that respect. So, that’s not the biggest issue for us. The biggest issue is certainly job cuts, you know, no one wants to see any more jobs cut in this country, in this state. We also know what a health crisis it’s going to be if this becomes a for-profit business. I mean, even now we are the watchdogs a lot of times, because our physicans and our PAs [Physician Assistants] are private. A lot of our mental health people are private. So, you know, the nurses who are state employees do become the watchdogs and we worry…who’s the watchdog if we’re not here when it’s all private? Who’s going to be here to look after the inmates and make sure things are done appropriately?
We see that now. In one of the facilities, we have have had…um…they’re eight months behind, one of the private facilities in Pennsylvania…they were eight months behind in TB testing. You know, that’s a real health hazard for the community if people get out of prison who aren’t treated or who were not reviewed for any disease process along the lines of TB.
[Rick Smith]: And beyond that. If you don’t catch it in one person or two, it then spreads and then you have…what quite frankly…within that little community…what could be an epidemic.
[Marcie Boyer]: Exactly. Exactly. And people don’t stay in prison. 85% of these people are released from prison. So, that’s a big number who are returning to the community everyday. I think…we hear a lot of criticism…well, “how can you take care of inmates?” You know, “they get better health care than we do.” Well, these are the people who are coming back to the community. These are the people you are going to be sitting beside in church, that are going to be cooking your food at a restaurant. They need to not come back to the community and cause a health crisis.
[Rick Smith]: Excellent point. You know, instead of making the argument “why do they get it,” why not ask the question why don’t we all have health care.
[Marcie Boyer]: Exactly.
[Rick Smith]: I mean, that’s the bigger question. You’re listening to the Rick Smith Show, we’re here with Marcie Boyer. She’s an RN at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill. Today they had an informational picket where they came out and handed out information about what a bad idea it is to privatize.
Again, this governor and his privatization crew, the wrecking crew they’re trying to sell off every asset this state has, privatize—well, profitize—every job and everything that we the people here in the state of Pennsylvania own.
Let’s talk for a second about the training you folks get. As I understand it, it’s pretty extensive training. Not only medically, but also in things like self-defense to almost like being a psychologist as well.
[Marcie Boyer]: Right. I mean, we’re pretty much everything. The nurses are here 24/7 just as the officers are here 24/7. And so, working together with them, when someone is in crisis, we’re the people who are called upon to go out to the Blocks, to talk to the inmates, to, you know, let the doctors know what’s happening. We review every year continuing education programs on suicide prevention, on self-defense, and, as the officers do, we go to the academy for three weeks as a new employee to learn what it’s like to work inside the gates of a prison. To learn what to look for, to be as safe and secure as you can be. And then on an annual basis, we also do reviews every year to keep those skills current.
[Rick Smith]: So, if we privatize this, if we do what the governor wants to do and hock this off and let the private, for-profit interests take it over, will that type of training continue? And then I’ve got to question the record-keeping. I’ve got to question, you know, what history has shown us in these situations. Will it be the same status? Will you have the same type of training for the people who take over?
[Marcie Boyer]: Well, we don’t now. The vendors who come in…the docs, the people who are not state employees do not go to the prison. And, you know, we’ve had problems in the past with someone one signing out a pair of scissors, leaving them in a coat pocket that gets hung up. They see that person put the scissors there and now they know that someone hung that coat up and walked away from it. So, yeah, there are problems like that exist already because they’re not as attuned as the people who have gone to the academy and learned what it means to be safe inside a prison.
[Rick Smith]: So, two Republicans—State Representative, Mike Fleck, and Republican State Senator David Argill—have proposed legislation. I’m assuming this is going to be a bipartisan thing—the Republicans, historically, have been pro-outsourcing, pro-privatization, but this seems to me almost like a no-brainer.
[Marcie Boyer]: Exactly. And we’ve done legislative visits. I visited one of the local Republican legislators here a few weeks ago and he’s smart enough to know that this isn’t going to be cost-saving. And what happens to the oversight? And they were two of his questions. What happens to the oversight? That was his big concern. Who’s now responsible and does it take away any liability from the State if someone is going to sue? Of course it doesn’t take the liability away from the State. So, we’ve seen it all over the country. There was just a recent article about Carisen Health Services and Correct Rx in Maine…and they’re being sued. Once again, it was for not following through on care, it was for poor staffing, and not getting seen in a timely fashion. So, we know that the problems are out there with private health care systems in prisons.
[Rick Smith]: I say it’s working, leave it alone. So, what do you want me to do? What do you want Rick Smith to do? What do you want our listeners to do? What’s the ask? How do we stop this? How do we throw this back? What do we do?
[Marcie Boyer]: Well, I think we have to have everybody talk to legislators, you know, talk to the Governor. Certainly, let him know that the public doesn’t support this, that it is about a public health care crisis if we go to the lowest bidder. And just keep putting it in front of people so that they know that we’re very serious about what a health care threat it can be and what a security threat it can be to the communities.
[Rick Smith]: Excellent, excellent. Marcie Boyer, I appreciate the time. Thanks so much. Excellent discussion. Thank you.
[Marcie Boyer]: You’re welcome.
[Rick Smith]: Again, I look at this and another privatizations scheme…Nobody’s shown me that cost-savings, nobody’s shown me how this is going to benefit us, and this is another one.