Penticton hospital deal will see 14 workers laid off

Unionized staff in maintenance and trades at Penticton Regional Hospital will lose their jobs when responsibility handed over to P3 group

Fourteen unionized workers at Penticton Regional Hospital will lose their jobs when maintenance duties are handed over to a private-sector partner in 2016.

Those affected currently work in maintenance and trades and as power engineers, confirmed Lori Holloway, the Interior Health Authority’s regional director of facilities management and operations.

She said the consortium of companies that is eventually selected to design, build, finance and maintain the $325-million expansion of PRH as a public-private partnership will need full control over the entire site, well before the new seven-storey ambulatory care tower opens in 2019.

“The P3 partners invest a lot of money into these projects, and because plant services is such a key component of the project, they want to make sure they run plant services,” Holloway explained.

“They want to make sure it’s looked after as best as possible.”

Similar layoffs happened following major additions at hospitals in Vernon and Kelowna, but she noted some of the workers there were hired on by the private-sector operators.

“What we hope will happen over the next two years is many of the staff will be able to find opportunities in Interior Health or that the successful private partner will take on some of the staff,” said Holloway.

Interior Health spokeswoman Lisa Braman added that the new PRH  tower, and subsequent expansion of the emergency department, will create an estimated 83 net new full-time equivalent jobs in clinical and support services.

The 14 workers who will be looking for new jobs are members of the International Union of Operating Engineers and the Hospital Employees’ Union.

HEU spokesman Mike Old said news of the coming job losses didn’t come as a surprise to members, based on what happened in Vernon and Kelowna, but they are disappointed nonetheless.

“These are workers who have put in a lot of time trying to keep that facility operating in a safe manner for patients and other workers,” he said.

Old said the union understands the rationale for the layoffs, although, “I’m not sure we agree with that.

“We think there could be a role for in-house maintenance and tradespeople, but that’s not the decision, it seems, that’s been made by the health authority.”

He said the public should be concerned about the PRH contract and other P3 agreements.

“More and more of our hospital infrastructure and operations are being handed over to private corporations, and there’s always a question of accountability and control,” said Old.

“And, unfortunately, in our view, that’s been the ongoing trend both in new hospital construction and in the provision of new long-term care facilities throughout the province.”

Holloway defended the P3 model as the best use of tax dollars.

“You can’t look at it straight across the board, because there are changes with annual inflation and (consumer price index),” she said, “but what we know is overall, through the life of the 30-year contract, there will be savings to the system as a result of this project.”