IHA decides to outsource

Protests in 11 communities across the interior had no effect on a decision by Interior Health to privatize laundry services.

Members of the Hospial Employees Union held a rally on Main Street Monday afternoon to urge Interior Health not to move hospital laundry services.

Members of the Hospial Employees Union held a rally on Main Street Monday afternoon to urge Interior Health not to move hospital laundry services.

Protests in 11 communities across the interior had no effect on a decision by Interior Health to privatize laundry services.

On March 1, the IHA announced they had reached a 20-year agreement with Ecotex Healthcare Linen Service Inc. to provide the majority of linen and laundry services for the region, through a Kelowna-based facility Ecotex will be constructing.

It has been more than a year since the Interior Health Authority announced they were considering contracting out in-house laundry services at hospitals in the Souther Interior. OHA operates five large and six small laundry sites, with about 175 employees. Penticton Regional Hospital  hosts one of the larger facilities, with 18 full-time-equivalent employees.

A rally took place Feb. 29 throughout 11 communities in protest of the proposed privatization, but by Tuesday afternoon, IHA had decided to move ahead with the privatization process.

Manager of public affairs for Interior Health Darshan Lindsay said that meetings of the IHA board of directors took place Feb. 29 and March 1 regarding the privatization plans. Two prior meetings were held and twice there have been delays on any sort of decision regarding the future of the laundry services.

A 23-year veteran working at the Penticton Regional Hospital, most recently as a laundry worker, Brent Parker was once again at the rally held Monday near the Penticton Library.

“Originally they were to have two (meetings). The second one was to tell us the result. This is the third,” Parker said. “It’s being delayed, which is almost in our favour, I would think.”

He went to Victoria to hand in the petitions signed at similar rallies held by members of the Hospital Employees Union, and while he said it feels good to have their voices make an impact it’s still an “unsettling” feeling.

“To really not know what’s going to happen. This time I think we’re going to get some sort of decision, I’m hoping,” Parker said.

Parker’s hopeful attitude turned out to have been misplaced when news broke about the IHA decision Tuesday, which included Penticton on the list of facilities that will be closing. A total of 93 full-time equivalent positions will be lost at PRH as well as Kelowna General Hospital, Kootenay Lake Hospital in Nelson, Vernon Jubilee Hospital, and Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops.

“A clear case exists to proceed with outsourcing laundry services at our major facilities,” said board chair Erwin Malzer. “With an anticipated saving of about $35 million over the life of the contract, we will be able to increase our investment in facilities and equipment to support direct patient care, including necessary upgrades and expansions of our emergency departments and operating rooms.”

The HEU sees the loss differently.

“Privatizing a public, in-house hospital service that IHA admits is running efficiently doesn’t make sense. Not for the patients and surgical teams who rely on timely, sterile linens. Not for the people who do this vital work. And not for the communities that will be impacted by job loss,” said HEU secretary-business manager Jennifer Whiteside.

Penticton MP Richard Cannings was on hand at the rally Monday as well.

“I know many of these people and the battle for good jobs in this area. I knew many of them before I got into politics, I knew people who worked in the laundry in the hospital and I know what it means for the community to keep these jobs,” Cannings said.

“Governments and employers are always trying to look for ways to reduce costs, but this is such a minimal way to reduce costs and they’re giving up good local jobs and giving them away to Calgary or Vancouver,” Cannings said. “We really need these jobs, it will have such a huge effect on the people.”