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Posted: March 7, 2016

IH centralizing laundry services

Interior Health’s (IH) Board of Directors announced March 1 that it has reached a 20-year agreement with Ecotex Healthcare Linen Service Inc. to provide the majority of linen and laundry services through a centralized Okanagan-based facility, supported by regional distribution centres.

Erwin Malzer
Erwin Malzer

“A clear case exists to proceed with outsourcing laundry services at our major facilities,” said Board Chair Erwin Malzer. “With an anticipated savings of about $35 million over the life of the contract we will be able to increase our investment in facilities and equipment to support direct patient care, including necessary upgrades and expansions of our emergency departments and operating rooms.”

The following Interior Health facilities where laundry services are currently provided will be affected: Kelowna General Hospital, Kootenay Lake Hospital in Nelson, Penticton Regional Hospital, Vernon Jubilee Hospital, and Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops.

A total of 93 full-time equivalent positions will be impacted by the decision. Interior Health will work closely with the affected employees and the Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU) to ensure a smooth transition of the service to Ecotex by summer 2017.

East Kootenay Regional Hospital laundry is currently cleaned at Kootenay Lake Hospital in Nelson, but that facility needs the laundry space for other uses, a force behind the relocation of the service over more mountain ranges to the Okanagan.

“Interior Health laundry employees have delivered high quality service to our patients for many years, and I understand they may feel disappointed with this decision,” continued Malzer.  “While there will be job displacement within our sites, we believe the commitment by Ecotex to build a facility in the Southern Interior and hire residents from our region will offset some of the impact felt. We will also work with the HEU to support laundry employees as they consider options for the future, whether that is through accessing vacancies or retraining.”

Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald
Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald

The recent announcement has Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald concerned, as well as some regional politicians.

“My office has been contacted by a number of constituents who are deeply troubled by this development. Questions are being raised about whether there will, in fact, be significant savings, and whether the quality of service provided will suffer. Privatization of health services is not something many people in this area are comfortable with,” Macdonald stated.

“They’ll do business the way they need to,” shrugged Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) Electoral Area A director and board chair and Kootenay East Regional Hospital District director Rob Gay March 4, adding he questioned the size of the carbon footprint of “trucking laundry over mountain ranges.”

“It’s privatization,” Macdonald told RDEK directors during an annual update to directors. “People in certain communities will lose work. It’s just part of an ongoing privatization.”

Ecotex also gave the B.C. Liberal Party $187,000 in the last election, Macdonald said out.

District of Invermere Mayor Gerry Taft said privatization and centralization is a theme with IH. “Next down the pipe will be centralization of lab services. The world revolves around Kelowna” to IH management, he said. “Let’s cut jobs in rural communities; it’s concerning.”

Macdonald said the health system has been heading that way for 15 years, moving from community groups making decisions on health care to “a centralized model. IH’s communication department lays out an argument they will stick to. You are always in a discussion against a communication department.”

IH says the carbon footprint of the service will be minimally impacted. Increased freight will be largely offset by a consolidated, more energy-efficient centralized facility. For example, reducing the demand to produce and expand steam capability at the five major Interior Health laundry sites in Kamloops, Kelowna, Vernon, Penticton, and Nelson will positively impact the carbon footprint.

On-premise, small laundry sites in Interior Health facilities in Ashcroft, Lillooet, Golden, Princeton, 100 Mile House, and Williams Lake are not part of the agreement, and will continue to be operated by Interior Health with IH employees.

Based in Abbotsford, the company has been providing commercial laundry services since 1959, including laundry and linen management services to the health care sector for more than 30 years, including for Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health, Provincial Health Services, and Providence Health Care among other clients.

The contract with Interior Health will result in Ecotex investing in a new a new Okanagan facility that will create 90 – 100 full time, unionized jobs with competitive wages and benefits, the company said in a media statement.

“We are a proud Canadian company based in Abbotsford with operations in Canada and across the Western United States. We are always looking at opportunities to expand and bring our eco-friendly approach to the health care sector. We are excited to be in the Okanagan, investing in the region and creating local jobs,” said Randy Bartsch, President and CEO.

Lead image courtesy Interior Health

By Ian Cobb/e-KNOW

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