API privatIzation leaves unanswered questions for injured, disabled workers

Published: Feb. 11, 2019 at 6:48 PM AKST
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Few details have been made public since the Commissioner of Health and Social Services announced the department had assumed management of Alaska Psychiatric Institute and contracted with a private, for profit company to provide management at the hospital.

Now, some workers at the hospital are still uncertain about their future employment.

According to a press release from DHSS, if the first phase of the privatization is successful, "the company will assume full responsibility of API after July 1, 2019."

At Friday's press briefing, Commissioner Adam Crum said that as of now, all employees will still have jobs, but did not answer specifically what will happen should Wellpath take over full control of the hospital.

When asked if the employees will still be able to unionize, Commissioner Crum declined to stake a position publicly.

"That is a question for the future. I'm worried about right now," Crum said.

Since Friday's announcement, Barbara Williams, a consultant who works with injured and disabled workers says she has talked with a number of employees who are concerned about their future employment.

"Upper management knows, but people that are working there don't know, and it's scary for them. It's scary for them if they have work-related injuries going on and there's a new company coming in, because what happens if that company doesn't like me all of a sudden, or my accommodations change and I get fired?" Williams said.

Previous studies have found unsafe work environments for API staff. The Department of Health and Social Services found that immediate danger to the health of patients and staff as a reason for taking control of the hospital and outsourcing management, but Williams says those workers who have been injured on the job are the ones who may be facing the repercussions of the state's decision.

Channel 2 has requested information from DHSS, including a copy of the contract with Wellpath and specifics about how the transition will impact employees. On Friday, a DHSS spokesperson said that additional information requested would not be available by the close of business and "All of the information is still being gathered and the Alaska Department of Law still needs to give all of the documents a legal review."

As of Monday evening, the information has still not been provided.

"I would be concerned about that because you don't know what's going to happen to their benefits. Their long-term, short-term disability, their ability to take family medical leave and the benefits that they enjoy as state employees, their retirement packages," Williams said. "Are those things going to change? Those impact workers, decisions on where they work, where they're able to work, where they want to work. If they don't get the same things, it may not be as worth it to work there and endure those hardships."