Expect Superbugs and Reheated Food

norma

Hospital food goes private

Union slams decision, says province gambling with health of its most ‘vulnerable citizens’

ADAM BOWIE THE DAILY GLEANER

A government decision to privatize food, portering and cleaning services in New Brunswick hospitals that will result in 280 lost jobs could jeopardize patient safety, says the union that represents the employees.

But the provincial government says it believes the more focused, province-wide approach should actually improve these services, and will save the province between $7.9 million to $9.3 million annually.

Norma Robinson, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees 1252, said her union was informed on Jan. 27 that the provincial government was proceeding with a long-discussed plan to privatize services in provincial hospitals.

France-based food services and facilities management company Sodexo won the contract. Negotiations between the company and the Horizon and Vitalité health networks are currently underway to settle the terms.

Currently, the province employs about 902 full-time equivalent environmental services workers, 506 food services workers, and 163 porters in hospitals.

Robinson said the union has been notified 280 full-time equivalent positions will be eliminated as part of this change.

Health Minister Victor Boudreau said the provincial government has been exploring moving to a private service since 2013, when the province was under the leadership of Progressive Conservative premier David Alward.

“We’ve continued down the road,” he said.

“Sodexo is a global leader in these fields ... They, after having looked at the situation in New Brunswick, have identified areas where they believe they can not only improve the quality of service for New Brunswickers, but also save money for government. Obviously, that’s money we’ll be able to reinvest in the health-care system.”

And the provincial government has those savings in writing.As per the terms of the agreement,Sodexo says it can save the province up to $9.3 million, and at the very least $7.9 million.

Boudreau said the company has promised to introduce changes that will allow patients to have a greater say over the meals they’re served while in hospital and he said it’s likely food service equipment in several hospitals will be upgraded in the days ahead to accommodate these changes.

He also said it’s important to note that the employees who won’t be affected by the change will remain employees of the health authorities, with the same contracts and pensions they currently have. They’ll be managed by Sodexo.

Union officials say they’re not sure how that arrangement will work.

“If [Sodexo] sees there needs to be further cuts or reductions beyond that 280, well, who’s going to do it? It’s going to be Sodexo,”Robinson said.

“This could potentially be bigger down the road. They’re going to want to have the system the way they want it to be.”

Press Release

Privatization in Healthcare: Expect Superbugs and Reheated Food

FREDERICTON: Both Vitalité and Horizon Health Networks are about to sign a 10-year deal to privatize management and operation of hospital food service, environmental services and patient transportation.

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“We were informed that 280 full-time equivalent positions will be affected in the decision to sell off publicly run services to Sodexo, a French multinational corporation,” said Norma Robinson, President of New Brunswick Council of Hospitals Unions, CUPE Local 1252.

CUPE 1252 is very concerned by Sodexo’s grim track record: in other provinces and in the USA, they have been highly criticized, sued for overcharging governments and even kicked out of universities, jails, schools, and other institutions where they operated.

“It’s outrageous because we are already running a barebones operation. To save money and turn a profit, this company will inevitably cut corners. This will mean more hospital-borne infections and “superbugs”.  This government is putting sick people, seniors and our most vulnerable citizens’ health at risk,” said Robinson.

Less healthcare cleaning and infection control staff frequently results in more cases of Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE), C. difficile and other infections caused by bacteria and viruses encountered in healthcare facilities.

In past meetings with the previous Health Minister, CUPE 1252 had been reassured that no privatization of these services would happen – because there were no solid guarantees to find savings without loss in quality and services.

“Despite past cuts, the Union did its best to make sure hospitals were meeting their cleanliness targets. Front-line workers and their supervisors were meeting on a regular basis to raise cleanliness standards in facilities,” said Robinson.

CUPE 1252 is also concerned that more frozen food systems will be implemented: “Is this the food New Brunswickers deserve when they are sick and dying in a hospital bed?” asked Robinson.

“The health of patients and workers should matter: by keeping these services in-house, we can avoid costly and dangerous problems,” concluded Robinson.