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Dirty laundry takes centre stage with AHS

“It impacts the communities not only because they will be losing a good source of good-paying jobs, but as well it continues that centralization of services."

CANMORE— Alberta Health Services announced plans to privatize hospital laundry services in rural Alberta, including Canmore.

Susan Slade, vice-president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), said the announcement was disappointing because it reflects a trend of the provincial government privatizing pivotal services that Albertans rely on.

“At the end of the day it’s about shareholders profiting off of it instead of it just staying in the public dollars where every dollar goes towards those services,” Slade said. “It’s scary.”

AUPE received a written notice from Alberta Health Services on Monday (Feb. 10), stating the intention to contract out all hospital laundry services outside of Calgary and Edmonton. The proposed change will affect 275 AUPE workers in 54 communities.

Communities listed on this notice that will be affected by the potential change to privatize laundry services include Canmore, Strathmore, Red Deer, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and many others.

The intended timeframe of this transition includes sending out a Request for Proposal in May and awarding a contract in November.

The letter supplied to AUPE states the primary motivation of this change is the need to spend $45 million to $40 million to update infrastructure in the province.

Slade, who has 25-years of experience as a health care front line work, said it is concerning to see how these changes will affect the services provided to Albertans as aspects of health care are increasingly privatized.

“Canada is about having public health care,” she said. “Alberta should be about having public health care, the government needs to respect that.”

Slade added that she has never seen a provincial government pursue this level of privatization in the health care centre and is worried it could lead to a model in the province that is similar to the United States.

AUPE is especially concerned about how these changes will affect rural Albertans, Slade said, because as these services become more privatized, it will limit affordable access for those seeking care.

“It’s fine and dandy to have hospitals that are open and buildings that are open,” Slade said. “But, if you don’t have the services that Albertans need in those rural sites, there’s no point.”

Banff-Kananaskis MLA Miranda Rosin said in an email that Canmore was identified as a potential hospital to have privatized laundry based on a third-party audit conducted by Ernst & Young Accounting.

“I believe that every hospital across the province should have private laundry services,” Rosin said. “In my opinion, it is the epitome of wasteful taxpayer spending to have the government in the laundry business at a cost of $200 million every year.”

Rosin cited the fact that laundry services were previously performed by the private sector and that she has confidence a private contractor would be able to provide a “high quality” laundry service.

“We don’t need government employees doing work best suited for private industry,” Rosin said.

Friends of Medicare wasn't surprised to see the provincial government pushing for further privatization of a public sector.

Sandra Azocar, the group's executive director, said that over the years the “willful neglect” of the province in investing and maintaining medical facilities in rural Alberta has led to a “general state of disrepair.”

“It impacts the communities not only because they will be losing a good source of good-paying jobs, but as well, it continues that centralization of services,” Azocar said. “I think rural Albertans should be concerned about what will be happening to a service that ensures that you have [clean linens].”

Azocar added that privatization has proven to be an ideological goal for the current provincial government and that it has been at the expense of the public good. She called on the government to have increased transparency on how these initiatives are saving money while maintaining the quality of care Albertans need.

“They’re not being transparent to Albertans as to how much this is going to cost in the long-term and how much Albertans will be on the hook for paying,” Azocar said. “It’s nonsensical— it’s profiting off the back of the ill.”

The Outlook contacted Alberta Health Services on the proposed privatization of laundry in rural Alberta. The organization declined to comment, but provided a press release.

“We are considering the outsourcing of linen services as one of the many opportunities presented in the AHS Review report. Outsourcing of all linen services would be an evolution of the existing linen services business model, as we currently outsource just more than 68 per cent of our linen services,” reads the press release.

“Our consideration of expanded outsourcing is not a reflection on our linen services staff. This work is being undertaken to ensure the quality, safety and efficiency of the services delivered to Albertans.”

Chelsea Kemp

About the Author: Chelsea Kemp

Chelsea Kemp joined the Cochrane Eagle in 2020 as editor, bringing with her experience as a reporter and photojournalist. She writes about politics, health care, arts and entertainment and Indigenous stories.
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