The BC government and its six health authorities can’t sidestep their legal responsibility to keep patients safe, and would still be held liable if patients are in any way harmed by poor infection control and cleaning practices at hospitals where health care support services like housekeeping have been privatized, says a respected Vancouver liability lawyer.
“It is reasonable to assume,” says David Rosenberg, “that members of the public who are admitted to hospitals expect that the provincial government is taking appropriate precautions to ensure that all of the services, including hygiene within the facilities, are being provided in a reasonable manner.
“If it turns out contracted services are sub-standard and cause the spread of infectious disease, then health authorities and the provincial government would be liable,” for the harm caused to patients, he writes in a legal opinion prepared for the Hospital Employees’ Union (CUPE).
Simply put, “liability cannot be avoided by contracting out,” warns Rosenberg, who also serves as an adjunct professor of law at UBC.
HEU asked Rosenberg to review the jurisprudence and precedents about liability in circumstances of privatization, says spokesperson Zorica Bosancic, out of concern that the Campbell Liberals and B.C. health authorities are ignoring compelling evidence that standards of cleanliness and infection control decline when hospital housekeeping services are contracted out.
“Housekeepers and cleaners are the first line of defense in any health care facility’s infection control protocols,” says Bosancic. “But Victoria is turning a blind eye to the fact that privatization of these important services puts patients at risk.”
“In its drive to privatize, the government faces significant hurdles,” says Bosancic. “Cost savings remain unclear, the health authorities lose accountability over the provision of services, and they face legal liability over the delivery of services they can’t control which taxpayers will be on the hook for.
“It really makes you wonder why they’re bothering at all to privatize health services.”
While Rosenberg’s opinion focused on housekeeping services, Bosancic says the same legal principles would apply to a patient harmed by the privatization of other important support services like laundry and security.
Rosenberg is available for media comment.
The full text of Rosenberg’s legal opinion is available in pdf and Microsoft Word format.
- Go to www.heu.org/rosenberg_legal_opinion-final.doc for Microsoft Word document.
- Go to www.heu.org/rosenberg_legal_opinion-final.pdf for document in pdf format.
- To view pdf files you need Adobe Acrobat Reader which is available free from http://www.adobe.com/
Stephen Howard, HEU communications director 604-240-8525