Almost 12,000 British Columbians sign petition against privatization of hospital laundry services
The Hospital Employees Union (HEU) continue to hold Interior Health’s feet to the fire in an effort to save job cuts to the laundry services in area hospitals, including Kootenay Lake Hospital in Nelson.
HEU communications officer Brenda Whitehall said nearly 12,000 British Columbians have signed a petition calling on the provincial government to cancel plans by the Interior Health Authority to privatize hospital laundry services in 11 communities throughout the region.
The petitions hopefully can save as many as 175 decent, family-supporting jobs could be lost if IHA contracts the service out to one or more of the private companies it has invited to bid on the work.
The scheme has also come under fire from local governments with city councils in Nelson and Kamloops adopting motions urging IHA to reconsider the move.
In addition, the Vernon mayor has spoken out publicly against privatization.
All three communities have regional laundries that could be impacted by the plan.
HEU secretary-business manager Jennifer Whiteside is hoping that mounting public pressure will convince the province and IHA to make the relatively modest investments required to upgrade and replace equipment – about $10 million over the next decade.
“The health authority has been clear that their laundry workers are doing an excellent job,” said Whiteside.
“It’s disappointing that the provincial government and IHA would jeopardize efficient hospital support services and the livelihood of 175 workers over a relatively modest investment in equipment repair and replacement.
“And the possibility that the jobs could be trucked out of the region altogether adds insult to injury.”
Tuesday in the BC Legislature, Nelson/Creston MLA Michelle Mungall squared off with Health Minister Terry Lake over the contracting-out plan.
“People working in the laundry at Kootenay Lake Hospital are essential to our healthcare system for the region,” said Mungall,
“Unfortunately the Minister of Health has forgotten that surgeries don’t happen without clean sheets, and diseases can break out when we don’t have clean hospitals.”
Lake countered saying listening to the NDP talk about investing in health care is truly, truly the definition of the spin cycle.
“That’s what we get on that side of the House,” Lake said.
“The fact is that if there is a more efficient way of making sure that those laundry services are provided, then Interior Health and every health authority has an obligation to investigate that, if that means that more money is put in front-line health care. I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again.
“I would rather spend money on endoscopes than washing machines.”
Last fall, the IHA announced that it would explore the privatization of hospital laundry at five major hospitals in Kelowna, Vernon, Kamloops, Penticton and Nelson, along with services in six smaller communities.
IHA invited a short list of vendors to bid on the work in February and is expected to make a decision later this summer.
HEU laundry workers and their supporters have circulated a petition that’s attracted more than 11,750 signatures.
The petition will be tabled in the B.C. legislature in the coming days.