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Private contractor caught laundering soiled and bloodied birthing sheets in household washing machines

A private contractor hired to clean Fraser Valley hospital laundry is putting patients and workers at risk by using household washing machines located in seniors’ care facilities to launder bloodied and soiled birthing sheets from Chilliwack General Hospital’s maternity unit, charges the Hospital Employees’ Union.

Front-line workers at the hospital’s extended care unit and at Chilliwack’s Parkholm Lodge report that employees of K-Bro Linen Systems have used domestic washing machines - designated to clean residents’ clothes - to launder soiled birthing sheets.

“This is a deeply disturbing practice that’s out of step with the health and safety practices in place elsewhere in our health care system,” says HEU assistant secretary-business manager Zorica Bosancic. “And the fact that K-Bro employees are trolling Chilliwack health care facilities with buckets of bloodied linens looking for a spare washing machine is a sure sign that the company is failing to provide an adequate supply of clean hospital linens.”

The standard practice in B.C. hospitals - including at Chilliwack General Hospital before the laundry was privatized - is to isolate soiled birthing sheets from other hospital linen in plastic lined laundry bags to be cleaned in industrial machines at carefully regulated temperatures using special chemicals.

The consumer-grade washing machines used to clean residents’ clothing at Parkholm Lodge and in the hospital’s extended care unit are not designed to deal with the blood, amniotic fluid and other substances found on soiled birthing linens.

“Laundering birthing linens in these machines is a shocking departure from the usual health and safety protocols in place for these items,” says Bosancic. “But what’s even more shocking is that the Fraser Health Authority provided K-Bro with access to these machines.”

HEU will raise the issue at the hospitals’ next occupational health and safety meeting and will ask the local public health officer to look into the matter.

The Fraser Health Authority inked a ten-year contract with Alberta-based K-Bro last September to clean more than four million pounds of hospital linen annually. The company currently trucks the laundry to its Calgary plant.