Interior Health continues to move towards privatizing laundry services after completing a 90-day mandatory consultation process with the Hospital Employees Union.
The health authority says the impacted positions include 17 full-time jobs at Kootenay Lake Hospital, which provides regional laundry services for Nelson, Castlegar and Trail, and one full time job at Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital in Trail, plus part-time and casual employees. The HEU said in all, about 25 laundry workers in Nelson could be affected.
In November, when the potential changes were announced, the union said it hoped the privatization could be stopped.
“We believe there is still hope,” said Mike Old, HEU communications director. “We will be campaigning with our members to raise awareness of the impact.” He added that about a decade ago there was talk of privatization by Interior Health but the HEU successfully stopped the changes.
“No one is questioning the efficiency of the services,” Old said. “We believe a relatively modest investment [in laundry equipment] would protect jobs that are good family supporting jobs.”
Under the collective agreement, the health authority had to do a three-month consultation with the union before proceeding with its plan.
Interior Health announced today that it is entering the next stage of a process that will determine the future of its laundry services, by seeking what it called “request for solutions” from pre-qualified providers.
The process will determine what options may be available for using external providers for laundry services, allowing Interior Health to avoid significant capital costs associated with replacing industrial laundry equipment, the health authority said in a news release.
Inset photo: Alan Davies, Interior Health regional director of support services
“We know this is difficult news for our employees who have worked hard to make our laundry plants efficient,” said Alan Davies, Interior Health’s director for support services.
“But as we’ve noted from the outset, the decision to explore alternatives isn’t about the efficiency of our operations. It’s about avoiding future significant spending to replace aging equipment, an investment we can’t make when considering other health-care medical equipment priorities.”
Interior Health spends about $10 million a year to operate the laundry service and believes about $10.5 million is needed over the next several years to replace equipment such as washing machines.
Laundry services are currently provided by 175 Interior Health staff working at five large and six small laundry sites throughout the health region, including Nelson. The sites offer linen services to hospitals, health centres and Interior Health-owned and operated residential care facilities.
“We have stressed to our employees that nothing is changing today. We have a lengthy process in front of us, and the earliest we would anticipate any changes to laundry services would be spring 2016,” said Davies, noting the impact to staff is unknown and dependent on the outcome of the request for solutions, including the scope of laundry services and sites covered.
As Interior Health moves ahead with its plan, Lower Mainland health authorities are re-tendering existing private contracts for laundry services.