Alberta Health Services has issued a request for proposals to contract linen services at a number of hospitals in the North Zone including Cold Lake, Elk Point, Lac La Biche and St. Paul.
This was some of the reasoning behind the “wildcat” rallies at health care centres across the province in recent weeks.
According to Lisa Sutherland, Manager of Community Engagement and Communications at AHS, $38 million is required to maintain the current in-house services.
“More than $38 million in upgrades would be required to ensure both safety and quality of services. Alternatively, AHS would need to invest more than $100 million to build new modern linen systems across the province,” said Sutherland.
In an e-mail, she said, while linen services have an important role in the delivery of effective patient care, “the RFP will allow for much-needed investment in this area, while ensuring AHS can focus on other high priority areas, including initiatives focused on reducing wait times and enhancing accessibility of healthcare services across all Zones of AHS.”
According to Sutherland, the RFP was issued on Oct. 23 and has a Dec. 1 deadline. The selection process is expected to take several months.
“It’s too early to speculate as to what will happen at specific sites. The linen RFP will determine how it impacts specific facilities, and we will be able to share more information as the RFP process unfolds,” said Sutherland.
Val Whelan is a licensed practical nurse in Lac La Biche and the chapter chair for AUPE. She said she’s worried about the possibility of linen shortages once the work is no longer being done in-house.
“If we were to have a mass casualty or whatever, and a whole bunch of our linen gets used, more than what they had planned for us to use, right now there are people available that can go downstairs and go bring up an extra cart.
“But if it’s totally privatized, I don’t know what kind of extras they would ever leave us. When you have to leave a patient laying in a less than clean environment…It doesn’t go over well,” said Whelan.
Whelan said the claim that the work needs to be privatized because of the cost of needed upgrades and maintenance to the existing facilities doesn’t hold water.
“Who should have been doing that upkeep? AHS,” she said.
Whelan also worries about what else will be cut in the hospitals and long term care homes, which she says are already terribly short staffed.
“We’re running off our feet to the point that I just about wasn’t walking. I’m old and supposed to be retired. And yet I don’t know, where they’re going to cut. The long term cares are a skeleton staff. It’s really quite a sad situation. And you can’t even recruit into that kind of an environment because who wants to come and work under that when they can go and work somewhere else and have way less stress,” said Whelan.
Mike Dempsey is the Vice-President for the Northeastern Region of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE).
He believes the decision to privatize laundry and other general support services is part of the UCP’s plan to cut 11,000 jobs from Alberta Health Services and push the province towards a private healthcare system similar to the United States.
“The fact that the government is proposing these cuts, weeks after calling them healthcare heroes for putting their lives on the line during COVID, and now they want to get rid of it.
“As far as I know, I think we’re the only Western government proposing cuts to health care during COVID, the worst plague in 100 years,” said Dempsey.
“Our healthcare workers, they’re kind of like canaries in a coal mine here. They [The UCP provincial government] are coming after these little pieces of laundry, but general support staff in general, and soon it’ll be nursing and everything else,” said Dempsey.
According to the AUPE website there are roughly 428 people whose jobs will be directly impacted by the decision.
According to Dempsey, the move to contract out hospital linen services will impact every community in the province by removing or severely reducing the income of people who live there.
“They probably spend their money in the communities, on groceries and furniture and stuff you need to live, when you when you make cuts like that, they may not be able to afford to live in that community anymore, they may not be buying anything from that community.”
According to the career profile for a laundry worker on the AHS website, employees earn between $17.60 and $21.02 per hour.
K-Bro Linen Systems is the largest laundry and linen service provider in Canada and has the AHS contract for Calgary. According to wage information from across Canada collected by Indeed over the last three years, laundry workers for the company earn an average of $14.87 per hour. Minimum wage in Alberta is $15 per hour.