Mustafa Hamdiev via shutterstock

HARTFORD, CT – The union that represents the UConn Health pharmacists and technicians who dispense medications to inmates statewide is seeking a temporary injunction barring the state Department of Correction from changing providers until the bidding process is reviewed.

Nearly a dozen pharmacists and 10 other state employees including eight pharmacy technicians and two staff members were issued layoff notices by UConn Health effective Sept. 30 based on the DOC’s decision to privatize pharmaceutical services, according to William Garrity, president of the University Health Professionals AFT Local 3837 which represents the pharmacists and technicians. The pharmacists and technicians worked offsite to fill prescriptions for the roughly 13,000 inmates in state prisons, Garrity said.

The request for an injunction is one of several court actions the DOC faces as the agency works to provide health care to inmates after separating from UConn Health in July of 2018. The agency’s legal problems include lawsuits from inmates and their families alleging substandard medical care that had led to deaths.

The request for the injunction was filed after DOC Commissioner Rollin Cook failed to acknowledge an Aug. 7 Freedom of Information request seeking details on the private company which will take over the pharmacy service, Garrity said.

“No one is telling me who got the job,” Garrity said. As of Friday, Garrity said he had not received any information on which private company would be taking over dispensing medications, what the business model would be and if the plan is more cost-effective than what UConn Health was providing.

“If you are going to lay off state employees and send the work to a private company out of state, as a union leader, this is a situation where you are saying, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Garrity said.

The name of the new provider, any cost analysis and business plan information can’t be made public until the contract is officially signed, said DOC Director of External Affairs Karen Martucci.

“I have 100 percent confidence we followed the request for proposals as governed by the state,” Martucci said. She had not been made aware of the request for an injunction. 

The DOC opted not to automatically renew the contract with UConn Health for the pharmaceutical services instead putting the project out to bid, Garrity said. UConn Health did put in a bid charging the roughly same rate as Medicaid reimbursement, he said.

UConn Health was notified in the spring that the DOC had selected another vendor, affecting 22 employees, according to Lauren Wood, spokeswoman for UConn Health. About half are expected to fill vacancies within UConn Health’s pharmacy while human resources is working with the rest to find internal positions or comparable positions in other state agencies, she said. Two opted to retire and a third is on leave, she said.

The pharmaceutical contract was one of the last ties to UConn Health other than in-patient stays in an inmate unit at UConn’s Farmington campus. Since July of 2018, the DOC has been reshaping how health care is provided with its own medical employees.

By state law, the DOC is required to do a cost analysis for the contract and a business plan to justify the decision to privatize the service, Garrity said. The state Contracting Standards Board is now reviewing the issue and its Privatization Contract Committee will likely issue a request for information Friday, said executive director David Guay.

In the request for an injunction filed in Hartford Superior Court, the union asks a judge to halt the transition of the pharmaceutical services to a private company until it’s determined that the DOC awarded the contract under all the provisions of Connecticut General Statute 4e-16 which outlines the process that state agencies must use to privatize services.

“It’s a public safety issue,” Garrity said. “If the Contracting Standards Board agrees that it was done improperly, what happens to the inmates?” he said. “What if everyone has been laid off and can no longer provide the service and the contracted company can’t do it? Someone has to look at this.”

There has been no date set for a judge to review the request for an injunction.