Alberta Health Services announced on Jan. 13, that it’s contracting out retail food services in a number of health-care settings at some facilities in the province.
AHS is seeking responses from third-party providers of retail food services that are currently provided in-house.
The affected sites are: Peter Lougheed Centre, Rockyview General Hospital, Foothills Medical Centre, Alberta Children’s Hospital and Richmond Road Diagnostic and Treatment Centre in Calgary, as well as the University of Alberta Hospital, Royal Alexandra Hospital and Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in Edmonton.
“The revenue generated at retail food service outlets does not cover their operating costs, so AHS is subsidizing these services using finite health care dollars,” said AHS president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu. “Contracting out retail food services could provide $3 million per year in revenue that will be used to support core clinical services.”
AHS anticipates the request for response process will take about four months.
“Throughout the process, AHS will ensure that decisions are made with quality in mind,” said Mauro Chies, vice president, Cancer Care Alberta and Clinical Support Services, in the release.
This transition will impact approximately 240 full-time, part-time and casual employees. AHS stated it is committed to working with those employees and their union throughout this process. and anticipates there will be opportunities for employment with the new vendors.
Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) was quick to respond.
“While the current plan relates to hospital retail outlets, AHS has made it clear that this is a stepping stone towards privatization of in-patient food services, as well,”said AUPE vice-president Darren Graham in a press release Jan. 13.
Graham also chairs the union’s anti-privatization committee.
“We are witnessing the greatest threat to our health-care system in decades – and it’s being carried out during a pandemic,” he said.
“This news comes only days after lay-off notices started going to laundry workers. This is clearly part of a large-scale attack on several fronts against Alberta’s public health-care system that the government says will affect 11,000 jobs.
“This has nothing to do with saving money and everything to do with this government’s ideological opposition to workers having jobs with fair pay and benefits,” said Graham.
Lorne Fundytus, CAO of Rimoka Housing Foundation, said in his experience, privatizing health care-related services leads to lower quality services as for-profit contractors will always try to cut costs.
In his opinion, “The price is paid by the end result and the people relying on that service.”
Fundytus has a background in commercial cleanser manufacturing and health care facility services. Along with the chemical manufacturing business, he managed a company that specialized in the sale and lease of commercial equipment to restaurants, hospitals and seniors lodges in central Alberta for 20-plus years.
When the Red Deer Regional Hospital changed to private housekeeping services, it lead to an immediate drop in quality of services and the degradation of the facility, he said. Ultimately, the hospital switched back to in-house cleaning, according to Fundytus.
Rimoka owns three seniors housing properties and manages several other government assets.
While Rimoka is licensed as supportive living accommodations and therefore does fall under the health care umbrella, the changes won’t affect them as they don’t have any Alberta Health Services (AHS) contracts.
However, it may eventually affect Rimbey and Ponoka’s hospitals, he said.
Because Rimoka doesn’t have any AHS contracts, it isn’t tied to their mandates, such as mandatory COVID-19 vaccination of staff.
Other housing management bodies struggling with staff shortages are considering contracting out dietary or housekeeping services out of necessity, he said.
While he said he understands why some would chose that route, Rimoka is not contracting out services.
“My experience is it didn’t work,” said Fundytus. “In health care, you have to have high standards met.”
Rimoka is provided services through Home Care and Family and Community Support Services, but they don’t have contracts with them. They are able to work with those services to provide their residents with their needs.