Okanagan hospital laundry jobs could be hung out to dry

In house laundry services may soon be a thing of the past at Penticton Regional Hospital.

In house laundry services may soon be a thing of the past at Penticton Regional Hospital.

On Wednesday, the Interior Health Authority notified staff of plans to explore options for the future of laundry services, including outsourcing to the private sector.

IHA currently has five large and six small laundry sites with 175 employees. Outsourcing would directly impact staff at Penticton Regional Hospital, which operates one of the large laundries, with 18 full-time equivalent staff.

It’s not the first time outsourcing has been discussed, but previous discussions haven’t resulted in any changes. This time, however, IH said the existing equipment and infrastructure is reaching the end of its operational life.

Interior Health is not in a position to make significant investments in laundry, but rather place priority on the most pressing patient care needs such as medical equipment, and development of new or upgraded patient care spaces,” according to IHA’s press release.

IHA spends about $10 million a year to operate the laundry service and it’s believed about $10.5 million is needed over the next several years to replace equipment such as washing machines. Lori Holloway, regional director of facilities management, said the possibility of outsourcing is not about reducing operational costs.

The challenge we face is finding capital dollars for equipment and infrastructure which require significant capital investment over next few years,” said Holloway. “We are looking at options to limit increased capital investments across the health authority, which are not sustainable in the future.”

In 2008, Bill Kirkland, then Interior Health’s regional laundry services director, developed a new style of hospital gown in Penticton that not only gave the patients more coverage, but cut down on laundry costs and improved productivity. Holloway said they won’t be losing that kind of innovation by outsourcing.

Our staff have been innovative over the years, and helped improve operational efficiency at our laundry sites,” said Holloway. “If the service was contracted out IH would work collaboratively with a contracted provider to improve innovation and efficiencies.”

The earliest any changes could occur is April 2016, but the Health Employees Union hopes privatization can be stopped.

We’re really disappointed IHA is considering contracting out,” said Mike Old, HEU communications director. “Clearly these are important jobs to our members, their families and their communities. They deliver a quality service to the health care system.”

Old says the union will participate in the consultation process with IHA.

Our experience is that contracting out results in lower wages for employees and less control over the service by the health authority,” he said.

We will try and make sure we protect these jobs and the service.”