3/21/08

SEIU fends off state with future promises

After reaching a cost-saving agreement with union leaders, the state plans to end its efforts to privatize and consolidate forensic services in state hospitals serving people with mental illnesses. In a statement prepared for release today, state Department of Public Welfare Secretary Estelle Richman said the agreement maintains quality care and continued employment for forensic center staff while providing savings to Pennsylvania taxpayers.

Forensic units provide evaluation and treatment for people in the criminal justice system.

The agreement calls for no layoffs, though officials plan to save about $1.5 million the first year by cutting positions through attrition and making salary changes for new hires, said department spokeswoman Stacey Witalec. Savings should increase in later years, she said.

Representatives of union groups praised the agreement while acknowledging that it involves concessions.

"Our members felt this was a major win," said Mike Morrill, state unit coordinator for Service Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania, which represents nurses in forensic units.

"This agreement saves tax dollars without compromising public safety," said David La Torre, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, which had been highly critical of the privatization effort.

Other unions that worked to reach the agreement with the state included Pennsylvania Social Services Union Local 668 and the Office and Professional Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania.

The state disclosed the privatization effort last August as part of an announcement that Mayview State Hospital would close by the end of this year.

The agreement to be announced today still means the termination of forensic and other mental health services at Mayview.

Currently, the state provides forensic services at Mayview, Norristown and Warren state hospitals. The state had explored creating privately run forensic facilities at two sites, the Norristown and Torrance hospitals.

Under the new agreement, state-operated forensic services at the Warren and Norristown hospitals will continue. Once Mayview closes, forensic services there will be transferred to Torrance State Hospital.

(post-gazette.com)

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