New IHA CEO visits Nelson but leaves laundry services question in spring spin cycle, with social fabric softener now added in
The social equation will factor into the recommendation given to the Interior Health Authority board in March when they are called upon to decide the future of laundry services — and 17 fulltime jobs — at Nelson’s Kootenay Lake Hospital, claims the IHA’s new president and chief executive officer.
Chris Mazurkewich said Monday in Nelson that more than financial considerations will be given merit in the recommendation IHA staff will deliver to the next board meeting in March, one expected to determine the fate of the service in Nelson, as well as in 10 other communities in the health region.
Although the financial element is important — the costs of infrastructure upgrade, modernization of equipment — Mazurkewich said there was also the cost of the people, the cost to the community, and the intrinsic value of the service to consider if it was lost.
“You can’t quantify that,” he said in his first visit to Nelson in his new position. “But there is an ethical consideration in what you are doing and how you are doing things and that has to be weighed.”
The board members, who are community leaders, will have to weigh those factors in their decision, one that will now not come at least until the next board meeting in March, after Mazurkewich revealed Nov. 25 that the decision would be delayed four months.
This isn’t the first delay in a decision on the service, said Brenda Whitehall, communications officer for the Hospital Employees’ Union.
The IHA first notified the union last fall that it was considering the privatization of hospital laundry services — at five major hospitals in Kelowna, Vernon, Kamloops, Penticton and Nelson, along with services in six smaller communities — and would be issuing a request for solutions, with a decision expected late summer.
But pursuant to the provisions in the collective agreement, a 90-day consultation process between the IHA and the union took place, said Whitehall, a process that was confidential and one neither party could comment on.
The outcome of that initial process was delayed, she said, until the IHA came out with a statement last week.
Whitehall said the union has been clear that the service should remain in-house as the IHA has publicly declared that the current laundry service — performed by HEU members — is “efficiently run,” and that the IHA’s decision to privatize has nothing to do with staff performance.
As well, the IHA has not provided a business case to justify contracting out, she noted. The private laundry bidders are located in Alberta and the Lower Mainland, which could mean if the IHA contracts out, the 175 family-supporting jobs could be taken out of 11 communities in the region — including 17 full time and 12 casual jobs in Nelson’s Kootenay Lake Hospital.
“In some rural areas, the hospital is their biggest employer and workers rely on these decent jobs and benefits to support their families and their local economies,” Whitehall said.
The IHA had looked at outsourcing laundry service in the region nine years ago — a move already instituted by other health authorities — and the result was an improvement in productivity and made the service competitive with the private sector at the time.
The laundry service was kept in house. However, it was noted that at some point capital infrastructure — and its possible replacement — would have to be addressed. That time is now, said Mazurkewich.
Interior Health had identified that the laundry service facilities in Nelson were aging and would require significant investment to bring them up-to-date. It was estimated that a $10 million investment over 10 years was required to upgrade and replace any of the aging equipment.
As a result, the IHA began to explore the best options for delivering the service, including going to the private sector to see what companies had to offer.
But the move sent ripples through the local community’s municipal governments. City councils in Nelson, Kamloops and Vernon passed motions to protect jobs and hospital laundry in their communities.
In late spring a delegation of Hospital Employees’ Union laundry workers presented their 12,423-name petition to NDP MLAs Michelle Mungall, Jennifer Rice and opposition health critic Judy Darcy on the steps of the legislature, prior to being tabled during Question Period.
The petition called on government to halt the Interior Health Authority’s plan to privatize hospital laundry services in all 11 communities.
The Regional District of Central Kootenay board of directors also called on the province to intervene. In a July 13 letter addressing RDCK concerns about the removal of laundry services, Health Minister Terry Lake avoided any responsibility in the decision.
He said the ministry could only provide “stewardship for the health care system through policies, guidelines and ongoing monitoring and evaluation, while responsibility for planning and delivering publicly funded health care services falls to the regional health authorities.”
Lake also noted that the health authority had to look at all opportunities to deliver services in the most cost-effective manner possible.
In response, the RDCK board passed a motion stating that with “the laundry machinery at Kootenay Lake Hospital (having) 10-12 years of operating life left and is operating efficiently,” the board urged the IHA to “reconsider the direction to privatize laundry service at Kootenay Lake Hospital.”