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Fight is on to Save Alaska Psychiatric Institute

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AFSCME members in Alaska are fighting to keep the Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) in taxpayers’ hands. The governor’s proposed budget would allow the institution to be privatized. 

The Alaska State Employees Association (ASEA), AFSCME Local 52, opposes Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget proposal, which would eliminate and privatize many state programs and make massive cuts to core state services and institutions.

ASEA members are pushing the Alaska State Legislature to come up with a more responsible budget to meet the true needs of Alaska. Without an alternative budget, privatization plans already under way at API will proceed.

The governor’s “effort to privatize API puts Alaska’s most vulnerable citizens in jeopardy by replacing compassion with a profit motive. Let’s not be surprised when the API plan becomes a template for outsourcing health, transportation and social services across Alaska,” said Mike Laiti, an ASEA member working in the Department of Health and Social Services.

API privatization – which ignores labor contract provisions and procurement law – is the subject of a class action grievance filed by ASEA. Legislative scrutiny has followed. State Rep. Zach Fields of Anchorage recently introduced HB 86, a bill that would prohibit outsourcing care in the second phase of API’s privatization.

API has suffered from uneven leadership for years, during which the institution has been underfunded and understaffed. Despite these obstacles, ASEA members at API have worked tirelessly to provide compassionate care to Alaskans needing mental health treatment.

In its grievance, ASEA says, “The Dunleavy administration has contributed to this mismanagement by getting rid of the CEO at API less than three weeks after taking office in December 2018 as well as firing two staff Psychiatrists, one of whom was the Chief Psychiatrist, for failing to pledge loyalty to the new Governor.” 

ASEA also notes that these firings happened during the same time the Dunleavy administration began negotiations with the company that was subsequently awarded the unlawful sole-source contract to completely privatize the facility six weeks later – when the administration declared the existence of an emergency.