A state employees union is suing the state over its decision to privatize management of the troubled Alaska Psychiatric Institute. 

On Monday night, Alaska State Employees Association officials wrote that "immediate action is necessary to prevent Wellpath from causing irreparable harm to the union and more than 200 members at API it represents."

The ASEA’s suit in state Superior Court names Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the state Department of Health and Social Services as defendants. The Monday filing follows a protest last month by dozens of ASEA workers outside the institute, claiming that Wellpath Recovery Solutions’ $1-million-a-month contract “takes away jobs from our state workers.”

In a statement announcing the suit, ASEA executive director Jake Metcalfe claimed the decision violates the Alaska Constitution, as well as state law and the state’s collective bargaining agreement relating to the privatization process.

“The Dunleavy plan to outsource this hospital goes beyond bad policy,” Metcalfe said. “It violates the Constitutional mandate that Alaska provide for the mental health of its residents, it violates procurement law through the award of a sole-source contract, and it harms the Union and API employees by ignoring ASEA Contract language requiring a feasibility study before any steps are taken to outsource services.”

In the past year, reports have found that API has an unsafe work environment and that allegations of staff abuses — including ignoring a patient-on-patient rape — are “justified.”

According to the union, its agreement regarding API requires that the state “conduct a feasibility study and provide 30 days for [ASEA] to review the privatization plan and introduce an alternative proposal.”

Asked for comment on the suit, Dunleavy spokesman Matt Shuckerow said the administration does not comment on pending litigation. The move was prompted by API’s imminent loss of certification from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which Shuckerow suggested would hurt the union’s members as well.

“Loss of certification would have taken away any option for federal funding and would have also lead to the loss of facility licensure for API, which means the institute would have been shut down, patients transported out of state and employees laid off,” Shuckerow wrote.

API has seen recent progress, with The Joint Commission reaccrediting the institute last week to provide psychiatric care.

John Grobe contributed information to this story.

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