Potential Interior Health laundry privatization attracts criticism

VERNON – The war of words over possible privatization of the Interior Health Authority’s (IHA) laundry services is heating up again. The health authority says no final decision has been made, but that hasn’t stopped critics from speaking out.

Staff are worried about the possibility of job losses. The Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU) says 175 jobs are at risk around the region, 17 in Vernon alone.

“People are…a fair bit nervous about what their future holds,” says laundry supervisor, Wes Fitzsimmons. “The health region has told us they are satisfied with the efficiency of the laundry, they are satisfied with the service we provide [and] they are not upset about our costs at all. This is why it is confusing to us and pretty stressful for some of our folks.”

Dozens of HEU workers rallied outside of the Kelowna General Hospital today to protest the potential cuts. The union says more than 11,000 people have signed a petition against privatization.

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However, the health authority says it’s not looking at contracting out because of staff efficiency, it’s looking at contracting out because of capital costs for in-house laundry.

“We’ve recognized that throughout the next ten years we might have to spend as much as $10-million on capital and we are already struggling to find dollars for medical equipment so we will have to look at doing thing differently,” says regional director of support services, Alan Davies.

The health authority doesn’t know yet what alternatives to in-house laundry are available. Potential service providers still have time to provide IHA with details about what their services would actually look like. However, the health authority isn’t saying where the bidding service providers are located.

“Because it is part of the competitive bid process so I’m not at liberty to discuss who the vendors are and where they are located at this point in time,” says Davies.

The HEU has said there are bidders located in the Lower Mainland and Alberta.

Meanwhile, the issue and possible job losses have also caught the attention of Vernon’s mayor and council.

“It is not just the 17 jobs, it is also the families and the economic impact of what those families bring to the community,” says Vernon Mayor Akbal Mund.

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In the legislature Tuesday, Health Minister Terry Lake defended the decision to pursue the possibility of privatization.

“The decision was made to go ahead with the Request for Solutions that would…allow us to put more money in the front lines of health care which is where we think the money should be spent,” said Lake.

IHA is expected to assess the options and make a final decision about whether or not to contract out laundry services later this year.

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