AHS bid to save mil­lions de­nied

NDP scut­tles plan to pri­va­tize laun­dry ser­vice

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - KEITH GEREIN

Al­berta Health Ser­vices’ plan to avoid mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar up­grades to its laun­dry fa­cil­i­ties by out­sourc­ing the ser­vice to a pri­vate com­pany were un­done late last year by the NDP gov­ern­ment, Post­media has learned.

Doc­u­ments ob­tained through an ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion re­quest show AHS ex­ec­u­tives grew con­cerned in re­cent years about the de­cay­ing state of their linen and laun­dry sites around the province — fa­cil­i­ties that sup­ply clean bed sheets, gowns and sur­gi­cal cloth­ing at top sanitary stan­dards.

Es­ti­mated costs to build suf­fi­cient new fa­cil­i­ties have ranged from $54 mil­lion to $200 mil­lion, an ex­pense the ex­ec­u­tives de­cided was pro­hib­i­tive at a time when fund­ing was needed for more di­rect clin­i­cal care ar­eas, the doc­u­ments show.

“AHS has reached a critical point where the only vi­able op­tion for sus­tain­ing linen ser­vices that are core to pa­tient care is to work with our ex­ist­ing linen con­tract provider and tran­si­tion AHS fa­cil­i­ties to them as ef­fec­tively as pos­si­ble,” says a brief­ing note from June last year.

That provider, K-Bro Linen Sys­tems, has been used for years by AHS to pro­vide med­i­cal linen in the Cal­gary and Ed­mon­ton re­gions, and the health au­thor­ity planned to ex­pand the con­tract to in­clude the rest of the province. The ex­ec­u­tives noted other health re­gions, in­clud­ing some in Saskatchew­an, B.C., On­tario and Que­bec, had gone the out­sourc­ing route.

But Health Min­is­ter Sarah Hoff­man said she per­son­ally in­ter­vened late last year, telling AHS to look at other op­tions since the strat­egy ran afoul of NDP pol­icy to pre­vent fur­ther pri­va­ti­za­tion of health ser­vices.

The plan would have led to the elim­i­na­tion of 130 to 140 full-time equiv­a­lent jobs at AHS.

“If you want to change the sta­tus quo, you should be able to present a busi­ness case, and I asked for ev­i­dence … not un­like other de­ci­sions I have put on hold or can­celled,” Hoff­man said in an in­ter­view Tues­day.

“It lacks un­der­stand­ing of the cur­rent gov­ern­ment that we want to make sure we con­sider a va­ri­ety of op­tions and that was one of the rea­sons I asked them to stop with the pri­va­ti­za­tion agenda on this.”

Hoff­man’s stance was sim­i­lar to her con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion late last year to abruptly can­cel an AHS plan to out­source all med­i­cal test­ing in the Ed­mon­ton re­gion to a pri­vate com­pany.

Such moves were cited by for­mer AHS CEO Vickie Kamin­ski as ex­am­ples of NDP mi­cro­man­age­ment and ide­o­log­i­cal de­ci­sion-mak­ing that led, in part, to her res­ig­na­tion earlier this year.

Hoff­man de­clined to pro­vide any de­tails on her dis­cus­sions with Kamin­ski, but said new AHS CEO Verna Yiu has been “very ex­cited” to look at al­ter­na­tives.

She said the pre­vi­ous Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment had ba­si­cally forced AHS into pri­va­tiz­ing linen by re­fus­ing to pro­vide capital fund­ing for any­thing con­sid­ered a sup­port ser­vice.

She sug­gested her gov­ern­ment is will­ing to put money into such ar­eas, but it is still un­clear how those projects will stack up against com­pet­ing de­mands for new hospi­tals, care fa­cil­i­ties and a med­i­cal test­ing lab.

“Pre­tend­ing laun­dry isn’t a critical part of pa­tient care, I don’t buy that,” Hoff­man said.

Out­side of Cal­gary and Ed­mon­ton, linen ser­vices are cur­rently pro­vided by AHS in a kind of “hub and spoke” model. While a num­ber of ru­ral hospi­tals and care cen­tres process much of their own linen, the ex­tra loads get sent to six hub sites: Medicine Hat, Leth­bridge, Red Deer, Ponoka, Grande Prairie and Fort McMur­ray.

A large num­ber of these laun­dries, big and small, have ex­pe­ri­enced prob­lems in re­cent years, the doc­u­ments show.

Medicine Hat has been one of the most trou­ble­some fa­cil­i­ties, with a 4½-month shut­down of its old iron­ing sys­tem, a sewer line col­lapse, daily power sup­ply is­sues and a roof leak that de­stroyed the elec­tron­ics of the cart wash sys­tem.

The site has been only par­tially re­stored af­ter these in­ci­dents, forc­ing Medicine Hat to send much of its linen to Leth­bridge.

As well, there are wor­ries space con­straints at the Grande Prairie and Fort McMur­ray fa­cil­i­ties will make it dif­fi­cult to take on ad­di­tional work, while a num­ber of smaller sites need to re­place old equip­ment that re­quires fre­quent re­pairs from AHS tech­ni­cians.

In the doc­u­ments, AHS warns these prob­lems present a safety hazard to work­ers and also threaten the health au­thor­ity’s abil­ity to con­sis­tently pro­vide linen that meets stan­dards for in­fec­tion preven­tion.

The linen ser­vices de­part­ment posted a dis­abling in­jury rate of 12.06 as of Jan­uary this year, well above the AHS av­er­age rate of 3.01.

Though the doc­u­ments de­clare AHS to be at a “critical point,” ex­ec­u­tive Mauro Chies tried to down­play the con­cern.

“I don’t think we are at critical thresh­old point right now, but it is on our radar,” said Chies, vice-pres­i­dent of clin­i­cal sup­port ser­vices.

AHS is look­ing at a num­ber of in­fra­struc­ture op­tions, with a de­ci­sion ex­pected late this year, Chies said. One of those op­tions is a sys­tem of four hubs that would likely be lo­cated in Leth­bridge, Grande Prairie, Ponoka and one north cen­tral com­mu­nity, such as Athabasca.

He sug­gested the con­struc­tion bill could come in well be­low es­ti­mates quoted in the doc­u­ments, be­cause AHS is look­ing at using older ware­house sites al­ready owned by the gov­ern­ment, if pos­si­ble.

The new sites would likely in­clude a high level of au­to­ma­tion, which could re­duce staffing needs about 50 per cent.

DAVID BLOOM/FILES

Health Min­is­ter Sarah Hoff­man said she per­son­ally in­ter­vened to tell the AHS to look at other op­tions for hos­pi­tal laun­dry rather than pro­ceed­ing with the pri­va­ti­za­tion plans of the pre­vi­ous Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment.

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