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B.C. Children’s and Women’s Health Centre is alone among children’s hospitals in Canada in its controversial move to privatize critical cleaning and patient dietary services, according to an investigation by the Hospital Employees’ Union.

On Tuesday, the Provincial Health Services Authority awarded housekeeping and food services contracts for the hospital - along with the B.C. Cancer Agency - to two subsidiary companies of British outsourcing giant Compass Group. As many as 500 regular and casual staff have been given notice that they’ll be out of work this fall.

As a result, infection control functions like the cleaning of operating rooms, special care nurseries and sensitive medical equipment will be carried out by poorly paid contract workers. Compass cleaners in other health care settings earn about $9.50 an hour - about half what the current staff earn.

In a survey of the seven major children’s hospitals elsewhere in Canada, none reported contracting out staff to provide critical cleaning and dietary functions. One children’s hospital in Newfoundland has contracted out management of its food services only but retains the staff as direct employees.

South of the border, the Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle has in-house employees providing cleaning and patient food services. Cleaning services were contracted out 20 years ago, but as a result of the experience, the service was subsequently brought back in house.

“I’m not at all surprised that health administrators across the country have rejected privatized cleaning and patient food services,” says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt. “And our recent experiences with SARS in Canada has reinforced the important role that every member of the health care team plays in effective infection control.

“But B.C. health employers seem determined to break up the health care team leading to less accountability and responsiveness and more red tape.”

The children’s hospitals surveyed earlier this week are: Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre (St. John’s), IWK Health Centre (Halifax), Montreal Children’s Hospital, Hospital for Sick Children (Toronto), Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (Ottawa), Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre and Alberta Children’s Hospital (Calgary).


Mike Old, communications officer, 604-828-6771 (cell)