NUHW members successfully lobby lawmakers to hold Wellpath accountable
Wellpath, a private equity-owned firm that provides healthcare services to correctional facilities across the country, makes more money when it fails to meet the staffing levels required in its contracts with public agencies.
Wellpath has followed this formula in Stanislaus County, where it has chronically understaffed the county jail in Modesto and let staffing levels fall to even more dangerous levels during the worst days of COVID.
But as the pandemic got underway two years ago, caregivers at the jail employed by Wellpath got organized and voted to join NUHW. When it was time for Wellpath’s contract to come up for renewal with the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors, Wellpath workers were ready to hold the company accountable.
Working with organizers and NUHW researchers, the caregivers documented Wellpath’s flagrant violation of the staffing matrixes set forth in the county’s contract and shared that information with county officials.
Caregivers also addressed Stanislaus County supervisors, informing them of conditions inside the jail and calling on them to put accountability provisions into the county’s upcoming contract with Wellpath.
The supervisors listened to the caregivers, and they delivered.
The new five-year contract for jail medical and mental health services includes language that requires Wellpath to submit monthly staffing reports and a new enforcement mechanism requiring Wellpath to return taxpayer dollars allotted for staffing when the company falls short of the required staffing levels. A similar clawback provision was won by NUHW members employed by Wellpath at Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County.
“We’re happy the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors approved these measures that make Wellpath accountable for the contract they have with the county and the taxpayers,” Registered Nurse Breana Karbeling said.
The new Stanislaus contract also includes a more detailed staffing plan and adds crucial positions, including registered nurses and a discharge planner to connect people with mental health services when they return to the community.
“The issue of short-staffing is important to all of us and is the reason why we formed a union two years ago,” Karbeling said. “The new regulations will also ensure there is appropriate staffing to respond to emergencies, speed up inmate booking and assessments, and improve working conditions and quality of care for our patients not only when they’re in the jail, but also when they reintegrate into the community.”